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Open Enrollment: The Affordable Care Act Helps a Vermont Drop-in Center Connect Youth to Health Insurance

Photograph of three healthcare professionals smiling.

With the October 1 launch of a new national health insurance marketplace put in place by the Affordable Care Act, Americans will have a new way to find affordable health care.

But they won’t be left to their own devices. The Act requires states to fund a system of “navigators,” organizations that help people understand their health care options under the law. And in Vermont, one of those navigators will take a decidedly youth-friendly approach.

Spectrum Youth & Family Services in Burlington, VT, is one of 18 organizations awarded funding by the state’s health department to help people understand their health care options and find insurance. The runway and homeless youth organization and Family and Youth Services Bureau grantee plans to expand its drop-in center to educate young people ages 18 to 24 about coverage options and provisions of the Act that may affect them. Bridget LaRoche, Spectrum's drop-in and outreach coordinator, says the organization aims to enroll 300 young people in insurance during the first year.

“It just seemed like a really easy fit for us because we were already doing this work of helping people navigate the state benefits website and figuring out how to get health insurance,” LaRoche says. “We’ve been helping people do that for years.”

Translating the Legislation

LaRoche says Spectrum staff will be trained to understand as much as possible about the Act and the marketplace and translate that information into youth-friendly language. For example, an upcoming expansion of Medicaid eligibility may be especially useful for youth with no stable income. Homeless youth may be less likely to benefit from a provision allowing them to stay on their parents’ insurance until age 26.

“Everything's up to the person as far as what they want to choose for their plan. We just help them understand all the options and then it’s up to them,” LaRoche says.

Getting the Word Out

To educate the community about the health insurance marketplace and Spectrum's services as a navigator, staff plan to set up an information booth in a popular pedestrian mall near their office and to get the word out through social media, email distribution lists and recurring community meetings. Spectrum is also collaborating with other state navigator organizations, LaRoche says, to expand their collective reach rather than duplicating efforts.

“We’re trying to get the word out that we can help with this. If you’re a youth between 18 and 24 who needs help with this health insurance stuff, we’re the people to talk to.”

Learn more about your state's health insurance marketplace and how to access a list of local navigator organizations. The Administration for Children & Families is also establishing an Office of the Chief Medical Officer listserv to help communicate up-to-date information about the Affordable Care Act. Email kevin.powell@acf.hhs.gov if you'd like to be added to that list.

Monday-Friday
9-5 pm Eastern