Statewide Campaign Meant To Help Illinois Students Obtain Health Insurance Launches

In an effort to encourage more young people to obtain health insurance as part of the Affordable Care Act, the Illinois PIRG Education Fund kicked off a statewide campaign Thursday meant to inform students about the law as well as provide tips on finding the right coverage. 

The Illinois PIRG Education Fund, which conducts research and public education on behalf of consumers, also unveiled a new “Illinois Health Insurance 101” guide to help young people navigate the state’s online health insurance marketplace, called Get Covered Illinois, which opened Tuesday along with other exchanges nationwide. The statewide insurance marketplaces are a key component of President Barack Obama’s signature health care reform law.

“Many are saying that young people don’t care. That we don’t want access to health insurance. That we don’t understand it,” said Kathy Waligora with the community health non-profit Ever Thrive Illinois, which helped launch the educational campaign at an event at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC). “The truth is we get it…[We] do want health insurance. We actually do understand the importance of being insured.” 

The problem, Waligora said, is that health insurance has typically been too cost prohibitive for young people. She called the health reform law a “tremendous victory” for Americans, but moreso for young adults who can now better afford coverage or stay on their parents’ insurance until the age of 26.

Under the Affordable Care Act, most Americans are required to have health insurance by January 1 or pay a fine. People have to enroll for coverage by the end of March 2014 to avoid penalties. Those who want their coverage to start January 1 have to enroll by no later than December 15.

People whose visit Illinois’ new Get Covered Illinois website are prompted with some basic questions to determine whether they should enroll in Medicaid or health coverage through the marketplace. Since Illinois has a state-federal partnership for its exchange, users who want to compare or buy plans would be directed from Get Covered Illinois to the federally-run website.

For many college-aged students, the roll out of the Affordable Care Act is their first experience with the ins and outs of the health insurance industry, Waligora said, and many want support as they make these big decisions.

“Students have a lot of questions about health insurance,” added Emma Chupein, a UIC student and Illinois PIRG Education Fund intern. “That’s why we’re sharing these tips to help students find good insurance that won’t break the bank.”

Organizers with the effort are planning a rigorous social media campaign along with informative YouTube videos and various forms of outreach on college campuses across the state, with the hope of targeting some 60,000 Illinois students.

Hailey Stueber, president-elect of the UIC Chapter of the American Pharmacist Association Academy of Student Pharmacists, is another young person working to help the public make sense of the new health insurance landscape. Stueber and her classmates are undergoing training to become application counselors for the health reform law.

“As student pharmacists, we need to know the facts to help not only ourselves, but our current and future patients make informed decisions about their health care coverage,” she said.

Among other facts and tips, the new guide explains the financial aid available to students to help cover insurance costs. Monthly rates for one of the cheapest bronze plans via the Illinois marketplace costs a 25 year-old non-smoker $120 in Chicago or $128 in Peoria, for example. 

It is also crucial for young, healthy people to enroll through the marketplace to help keep premiums low by offsetting the costs associated with sicker people.

Patrick Corcoran, regional outreach coordinator with Gov. Pat Quinn’s office for the Illinois health insurance marketplace, said young people are historically uninsured, making them a key population for the state and other organizations to help get enrolled. He called the new guide an important resource that can assist young people in understanding what the Affordable Care Act means for them.

Meanwhile, those with the youth advocacy group Generation Opportunity, whch is heavily bankrolled by the Koch brothers (Charles and David), have been encouraging young people through social media and other outreach efforts, including two unsettling video ads, to opt out of the Affordable Care Act. Generation Opportunity says it wants all young people to have insurance, but they should not feel forced “to buy creepy ObamaCare insurance at three times the price in order to subsidize an older, wealthier generation.”  The group is calling on young people to pay the fee under the Affordable Care Act for not having health insurance at all or find coverage through the private market.

Those who fail to obtain health insurance under the health law will have to pay a $95 fine in the first year or pay 1 percent of their taxable income, whichever is larger. Those penalties get larger in subsequent years.

In a statement issued Tuesday, Generation Opportunity’s president Evan Feinberg said, “We realize that buying private insurance is cheaper and smarter than drinking the ObamaCare Kool-Aid regardless of which celebrity they get to promote it.”

But Lindsey Pawlowski, a Loyola student working with Illinois PIRG Education Fund’s campaign, called Generation Opportunity’s opt out efforts “absolutely ridiculous”. She said the campaign is promoting inaccurate information about the health law.

“You don’t want to … not have health care because somebody else is telling you not to,” she said. “I think it’s something that people should make decisions about for (themselves). With this (guide) we are giving people options. It’s out there, and you can choose.”