As March 31 deadline looms, students campaign to promote Affordable Care Act

Alex Turney/Staff
ASUC External Affairs Vice President Safeena Mecklai, center, and Cal Berkeley Democrats promote awareness of the March 31 open enrollment deadline for coverage under the Affordable Care Act.

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When President Barack Obama appeared on the web comedy show “Between Two Ferns” with Zach Galifianakis to promote the Affordable Care Act earlier this month, it became clear that the focus of the campaign to increase health care coverage had shifted to American youth.

On Thursday, Cal Berkeley Democrats and the ASUC Office of the External Affairs Vice President united with Young Invincibles — a national organization whose mission is to increase the voice of young people in health care legislation — in front of Sather Gate in that same vein. Speakers hoped to increase awareness among students and the Berkeley community about the March 31 open enrollment deadline for insurance coverage under the Affordable Care Act, which would issue a penalty tax to uninsured Americans.

“As we head into spring break, we want to make sure that students get on social media, get on the phone, get around the dinner table and talk to folks about the importance of getting covered by the March 31 deadline,” said Christophe LaBelle, field director for Cal Berkeley Democrats, at the press conference.

According to data released by the White House in January, only 9 percent of those enrolling are aged 18 to 25, whereas 33 percent are aged 55 to 64.

UC Berkeley requires all students to be covered by some sort of insurance plan – either their parents’ private plan — which students can stay on until age 26 — or the campus Student Health Insurance Plan. Thursday’s event primarily targeted students graduating in spring who will be uninsured if they were previously covered by the campus plan.

Because of the campus requirement for coverage, many UC Berkeley students have not felt the need to learn about the Affordable Care Act, necessitating the advocates’ informational session.

“I know ‘Obamacare’ is supposed to be a ‘good thing,’ but I don’t know how to go about signing up or where to find information or what it covers,” said Madaly Alcala, a UC Berkeley sophomore.

At the event on Sproul, students were able to download informative apps, ask questions and request follow-up consultation with certified health care enrollment counselors.

Brian Burrell, California policy and organizing manager for Young Invincibles, has had multiple sports-related injuries and expensive hospital visits and thus emphasized the need for students to be aware of the benefits of insurance as well as the penalties they will incur if they are not covered.

ASUC External Affairs Vice President Safeena Mecklai, whose office prioritizes the health and safety of students, said it is essential for students to advocate on behalf of one another.

“We have over 700 active student groups,” Mecklai said. “If we can get at least one health care advocate in each student group, then we can pretty much ensure that that entire student group will be covered just because of the social interaction that will occur.”

Contact Michelle Pitcher at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @michellepitcher.