When De’Von Cross is volunteering on a college campus in his home state of Alabama, he sets up a booth in the student union center and lures students over with boxes of hot pizza. In exchange for a slice, students must answer one simple question: “Do you have health insurance?”
A pivotal deadline is approaching for Americans who don’t have health insurance. March 31 marks the end of the first open-enrollment period of President Obama’s landmark health care legislation, the Affordable Care Act. At 20 years old, De’Von is one of approximately 600 student-volunteers working with Bama Covered. The Alabama grassroots organization canvasses every nook and cranny of the state to inform people about their health care options, and to get people to sign up for one of the many packages offered in the ACA marketplace.
“The people who really, really need coverage are not often educated about it,” De’Von told The Root.
He described how some of the people with whom he’s crossed paths in his role as a certified application counselor can afford health care but have not had the information or incentive to sit down and apply online or via the phone. That’s where De’Von steps in. He’s been visiting health clinics and community colleges in Decatur, Ala., to spread the word. More often than not, he’s rolling up his sleeves and helping the young and old fill out the online application, question by question, until the “submit” button is selected.
Alabama is of particular significance.
It is one of the 24 states to opt out of Medicaid expansion, which means these states will not broaden the eligibility requirements that determine if a low-income person qualifies for Medicaid—health care subsidized by the government. So working-class adults who might qualify for Medicaid in other states like Kentucky or West Virginia don’t qualify in Alabama. De’Von says this is what makes the Affordable Care Act so significant: It offers packages that might pick up those uninsured stragglers left behind. That is also what makes Bama Covered’s work so valuable.
The organization’s got a fan in the White House. President Barack Obama tweeted about their work on Thursday.
De’Von doesn’t have concerns about whether or not that public shout-out, however benign, may have tainted Bama Covered’s status as a nonpartisan organization. Because Alabama is a red state and run by Republican legislatures, the organizers of Bama Covered want to make sure that they don’t cozy up too much to either side of the political aisle, so as to not shrink their volunteer pool, and thereby the number of people they hope to educate and sign up for health insurance.
“We’re here to enroll as many people as possible before the March 31 deadline,” De’Von explains. “It’s about people, not politics.”
De’Von’s mother was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis when he was 6 years old. Her diagnosis and treatment regimen exposed him to the intricacies of the health care system at a tender age, and fueled his interest in health care accessibility and affordability. De’Von will start Morehouse College in the fall with plans to major in biology and neuroscience, a great premed palette for his aspirations to become a neurosurgeon.
“I want to make sure that those who are insured are uninsured by choice, and not because of a lack of knowledge.”
Diana Ozemebhoya Eromosele is a staff writer at The Root and the founder and executive producer of Lectures to Beats, a Web series that features expert advice for TV and film’s most complex characters. Follow Lectures to Beats on Facebook and Twitter.