What college students should know about health care enrollment

Open enrollment for the Affordable Care Act began on Nov. 1 and will end on Dec. 15.

On Nov. 1,  students packed up their Halloween decorations, went to classes and prepared for the homecoming game. For thousands of California residents, last Wednesday marked the first day for health care enrollment.

Health care isn't something most college students think about since many are covered through their parents or their schools. The conversations start up around the age of 26, the cutoff for children to receive coverage through their parents' health insurance.

According to Anthony Wright, executive director of Health Access California, this group is called the "Young Invincibles" – a younger, healthier population of people who often choose to go uninsured.

"When people leave school, it's a triggering event for losing health coverage," said Wright, whose organization is a coalition of groups that advocate for access to health care. "They went out on their own and they're unconnected."

The Affordable Care Act, also known as "Obamacare," went into law in 2010 and was designed to extend health care to those who were previously uninsured, including those who don't have jobs. President Trump's administration has made several attempts to roll back the act, though with no success.

However, the administration has shortened the enrollment period from 90 days to 45 days, giving citizens less time to sign up for coverage.

Yurina Melara-Valiulis, a public information officer at Covered California, the state's health insurance exchange, said the change will not affect the state's plan for coverage. However, she is expecting many people to be confused because of the shorter enrollment period.

"Everything's the same," Melara-Valiulis said. "We're expecting a little confusion and we're prepared for that."

The preparation Melara-Valiulis talks about is the $111 million budget for marketing and outreach just for the state of California, a 10 percent increase from last year. That's a drastic difference from the federal budget cuts that the Trump administration made, which is now just $10 million for the entire country.

According to Wright, the topic of health care isn't always discussed on college campuses. That's because younger people don't frequent doctors as often as others.

"Young folks tend to be healthier," he said. "Prior to the Affordable Care Act, young folks had the highest levels of uninsured people."

USC Engemann Student Health Center doesn't assist students with enrollment in insurance outside the school's plan. In order to get more information about enrolling for a health insurance plan, USC Engemann suggested reaching out to an insurance agent through Covered California.

Twenty-six-year-olds can feel as invincible as they want to be, but when it comes to health care coverage, Melara-Valiulis says life can be simply unpredictable.

"There's a reason why people buy health insurance," she said. "It has to do with the fact that you can not only get sick at any point, but your life can change – your life can change in a minute."