Last month, we honored ten people as Champions of Change for the Affordable Care Act (ACA). These Champions were selected for their leadership and tireless work to ensure that individuals in their communities are benefiting from all aspects of the ACA. The event featured remarks by White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough and Senior Advisor to the President Valerie Jarrett.
Six years after the ACA was passed, 20 million more Americans have the security of health insurance. The Champions in communities around the country that we honored, and countless more volunteers and in-person assisters, made it possible. Just last summer, for the first time ever, America’s uninsured rate fell below 10 percent. Health insurance is giving more Americans the freedom to move, start businesses and dream big, American dreams. And thanks in part to the law’s focus on reducing costs and inefficiencies, health care prices have risen at the slowest rate in 50 years since the law passed, which will benefit all of us for years to come.
It was inspiring to hear the Champions of Change tell their stories. Their work was instrumental in helping so many people get covered this past Open Enrollment and in years past. As Chief of Staff Denis McDonough said at our event last Friday, “Progress isn’t easy, but we know that our efforts are more than worth it. Because what we’ve accomplished, or what you’ve accomplished, in six short years is undeniable.” We are so grateful for the work that these Champions, and other unsung heroes around the country, do every day to help Americans get the coverage they need.
Before the event, the Champions shared some of their reflections with us:
Ana Maria Garza Cortez
As a child, I recall my mother having to work up to three jobs just to make ends meet and never having health insurance. I understand first-hand how the lack of resources can impact a family’s ability to get the healthcare they need.
Today, I advocate for improving access to care for low-income working families, with and without insurance. In an attempt to meet the needs of working families, I coordinated many enrollment events in the evenings and on weekends. I also ensured that community residents had access to culturally sensitive promotional materials.
I am honored to receive this recognition and humbly accept it on behalf of my staff and the coalition partners who work selflessly to serve their community. I dedicate this recognition to families who struggle to acquire access to care. I would like to thank the Enroll SA coalition co-leaders, Joe Ibarra with Enroll America, and Andrea Guajardo with Christus Santa Rosa Health System for nominating me to receive this recognition.
Ana Maria Garza Cortez, MA is the Vice President of Development and Marketing at CentroMed, a Federally Qualified Health Center in San Antonio, Texas.
During this past open enrollment season, I had the privilege of coordinating outreach and enrollment efforts for the New Orleans Health Department (NOHD). As I reflect on my experience, I am reminded of both the large numbers of individuals who now have health coverage, and more unexpectedly, the ACA’s capacity to yield influence beyond the realm of healthcare.
In December, Mitch Landrieu, Mayor of New Orleans, responded to a call from President Obama as a part of the White House Healthy Communities Challenge by calling upon barbers and hair stylists to partner with NOHD in our outreach and enrollment efforts. The first time I walked into a barber shop to recruit participants, I felt painfully conspicuous. I was relieved to discover that the universal need for quality, affordable health coverage created a neutral space, which fostered collaboration among diverse members of the New Orleans community. After a few weeks of working with barbers, sitting in the back of shops with a tiny tablet to enroll people in health insurance, they were inviting me to attend their second lines and parties. I am grateful for the opportunity provided by the ACA and the White House Health Communities Challenge to partner with such kind, gracious, and open individuals.
A few weeks ago, Mayor Landrieu visited the winning barber shop. A coworker approached me the next day and excitedly told me that her friend, who owns the winning shop, is so proud of his accomplishment and the opportunity to invest in his community. “He made it cool,” she said, “people are watching.” NOHD’s partnership with barbers and stylists is just beginning. The ACA is remarkably impactful in expanding access to health care, and protecting the rights of patients. Beyond these provisions, it enables invaluable connections yielding significant impact beyond quantifiable metrics.
Shelbi Flynn is a fellow at the New Orleans Health Department and a Public Health Associate with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Rudolph “Rudy” Gonzales
I am the son of Rodolfo Corky Gonzales and Geraldine Gonzales, I was raised and tempered in Denver’s well known Chicano Movement through The Crusade for Justice. A 1976 graduate of Escuela Tlatelolco, a school founded by my father, I participated, supported and worked in many of the watershed events of the Chicano Civil and Human Rights Movement of the 60’s, 70’s, 80’s and beyond. I remain steadfast and consistent in my commitment to social justice, equity and peace. I am extremely active in these issues in my communities of poverty, color and oppression.
I have worked in both the private and public sectors. Presently I serve as the Executive Director of Servicios de La Raza, a 44-year-old, Chicano-founded-and-run, community-based human service provider. I have reignited the mission of the agency and significantly escalated its prominent role among Chicano-founded and Chicano-run agencies in Denver and Colorado. I have also re-energized the advocacy and activism for which Servicios has, historically, been so well known.
Although primarily a Latino serving organization, I ensure that Servicios serves every individual who comes through our doors with dignity, respect, and in a culturally responsive manner; whether it be ethnicity, the culture of poverty, the streets, the jails or oppression. Working with my staff, I teach, mentor, coach and role model the paramount importance of service to others to ensure staff civically engaging on numerous entities to articulate a perspective and vision for justice, equity and peace contributing to humane policy and legislative efforts.
Rudolph “Rudy” Gonzales is the Executive Director of Servicios de La Raza and Co-Chair of the Colorado Latino Forum Denver Chapter.
Access to healthcare has always been critically important to me. From my grandmother's Alzheimers to my sister's multiple sclerosis, to my father's heart disease, I've seen the importance of receiving care for chronic diseases. Having lost many friends to HIV/AIDS disease, I wanted to focus my work in HIV and LGBT health. Leading a national healthcare non-profit has allowed me to connect health insurance enrollment and engagement to our work.
Following the passage of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, I led numerous efforts nationally and locally in Washington, D.C. and integrated enrollment efforts into our capacity building events for community based organizations and at PrEP (HIV prevention) forums hosted by HealthHIV and the National Coalition for LGBT Health.
Realizing that enrollment information needs to be personalized to reflect the patient's experience and concerns, I led the development of two enrollment and engagement guides for individuals living with HIV and LGBT individuals. These free, online guides provide consumers with practical information on enrollment in insurance plans, finding primary care providers, identifying HIV or LGBT health related culturally competent care, navigating the health care system, and taking advantage of one’s health insurance. I also was active on social media to raise awareness of enrollment and available resources. We recognize the importance of "patient protection" through the ability to access affordable health care, ultimately and ideally leading to overall health and wellness.
Brian Hujdich is the Executive Director of HealthHIV, which provides HIV and HCV related education, training, technical assistance, advocacy and health services research to organizations, communities, and professionals. Brian also leads the National Coalition for LGBT Health and the Pozitively Healthy coalition.
One of my fondest childhood memories is of the hours I spent piecing together puzzles. I started with simple board puzzles, and eventually graduated to 1000-piece jigsaws. There was something about getting a box of mismatched pieces and turning them into a finished picture that made me feel accomplished. I did not realize it then, but my fondness for puzzles ultimately helped shape the way I view the world.
Today, as Spelman College's manager of community service, it is my duty to create meaningful service opportunities for our students. My efforts led to the development of a partnership with Enroll America, the nation’s leading health care enrollment coalition. Educating myself about the organization’s work with the Affordable Care Act and their mission to connect local citizens to healthcare coverage options, afforded me the opportunity to establish a new connection, and perfectly join together what seemed to be puzzle pieces for the students I serve. By setting up community service “phone-banking” events on campus in the evenings and weekends, I was able to create a pathway for students to support Enroll America's causes. This effort resulted in a wonderful collaborative experience that has proven to be an invaluable community service initiative. It also helped the College create local awareness and inform consumers about viable ways to secure healthcare coverage for their families. Ultimately, combining these elements has led to a ‘perfect fit’ for the community. Like the puzzles I pieced together as a child, this experience is an honor I will cherish for years to come.
Andrea Irvin is the manager of community service and Bonner Scholar programs at Spelman College in Atlanta, Georgia.
I was born in and raised in Dakar, Senegal in West Africa, and I never imagined being personally invited to the White House, and am honored to be considered a Champion!
More than 20 years ago I came to the United States with a passion for helping those in need. I have worked with community-based organizations that made a difference in the neighborhoods they served. Today working in public service, I have been able to facilitate funding, guidance, and partnerships between city government and the community.
The "BenePhilly Get Covered Tour" began in the fall of 2015. The purpose of the Tour was to bring free in-person health insurance enrollment assisters to local communities. It was my responsibility to link the Tour with the community.
At the event persons had the opportunity to receive free in-person enrollment assistance to sign up for health plans through the Health Insurance Marketplace. Seeing the individuals and families receive insurance was an awesome experience. Hearing their personal stories of how their lives have been changed made a deep impact to me personally. Health insurance directly affects our daily lives. Being part of a process that gives people the ability to feel secure was priceless.
Elhadji Ndiaye is a Neighborhood Program Coordinator for the Office of Housing and Community Development in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
I grew up in a small town in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, but have lived and worked in Montana for the last decade. My first job out of college was as an organizer where I learned invaluable skills in problem solving, communication, and engaging local communities. I have had the opportunity to work on an array of issues that impact people who are low-income, but access to healthcare has been a common thread.
In my current role at the Montana Primary Care Association facilitating the Cover Montana project, I have the privilege of working with an diverse stakeholder coalition including: Community Health Centers, reproductive health clinics, critical access hospitals, large health systems, Indian Health Service, Tribal Health Departments, Urban Indian Health Centers, and direct service providers. Their boots on the ground in local communities has been key to successful outreach and enrollment efforts in Montana.
I am also proud to be part of a policy and advocacy coalition that helped to pass Medicaid expansion and ensure that the most vulnerable in our state have access to affordable coverage. Successful implementation of the ACA was never guaranteed in a large rural state like Montana, but our success is a testament to hard work and countless conversations about why our communities are stronger, safer, and able to thrive when everyone has access to healthcare.
Olivia Riutta is the Outreach and Engagement Manager at the Montana Primary Care Association.
At Be Jersey Strong, we train and mobilize student community health workers to address health-related social needs. During the third open enrollment period, we recruited over 500 college student volunteers from 20 campuses to help thousands of New Jerseyans better understand their options for coverage. Doing so has brought important lessons about outreach and enrollment into sharp relief.
First, on campuses throughout the state, our best and brightest want little more than a chance to put their head, their hands, and their heart in conversation. At Be Jersey Strong, we give students exactly that – a chance to put their head to work in learning about the new health care landscape, their hands to work in connecting with individuals in need and helping them make one of the most important decisions of their life, and their heart to work in finding the meaning and purpose that comes with doing so. With three out of four students attending our recruitment talks this past fall expressing an interest in volunteering with us, we believe the enthusiasm for such opportunities is inspiringly high.
Second, students are well positioned to connect with individuals in need. They hold natural influence over young invincibles by virtue of being young invincibles themselves. They also speak the language, both literally and figuratively, of many individuals in need. Nearly two-thirds of our volunteers speak a second language with over 50 languages represented in all. And with many students serving in the very communities with which they identify, their ability to forge connection is all the more impressive.
For these reasons and others, we believe that a well-trained corps of student community health workers can drive incredible positive change. We look forward to doing exactly that in the months and years ahead.
Aakash Shah is the Founder and Executive Director of Be Jersey Strong, which trains and mobilizes student community health workers to address health-related social needs in communities throughout New Jersey.
All of us want to use our talents and make a difference in the lives of others. Sometimes ‘others’ are family or neighbors, sometimes ‘others’ extend to our community or even around the world. In my family’s faith tradition, “neighbor” meant any person.
Personal family health crises heightened my awareness for health insurance. Growing two entrepreneurial businesses I was also well aware of the cost. In the first business, starting in the 70’s we added insurance as we grew. In the second, I took a risk: I was over 50 and needed to cover the young employees, excluding myself, so the company could afford it.
When the ACA passed, I had time, and valued health insurance—having retired at age 67. Becoming a full-time volunteer with Tennessee Health Care Campaign and ACA gave me a gift to participate in a life-changing movement that could use my computer/internet, teaching and organizing skills to make a difference. We developed statewide collaborations, recruiting and training volunteers to understand the new online ACA application, even imagining new web-enabled tools. And, as we reached New Americans, minorities and young “Invincibles”, we listened and empowered new enrollees to share their excitement, encouraging friends to seek local help and enroll.
While enrolling people, we heard stories of life-saving physicals discovering unknown illness, women escaping domestic abuse needing to find insurance, individuals with two part-time jobs who never could afford insurance, pre-existing condition folks who couldn’t get coverage. The ACA is a gift to all of us.
Jackie Shrago is a full-time Volunteer with the Tennessee Health Care Campaign.
The passage of the Affordable Care Act six years ago was the high point of my career as an advocate for low-income people. I didn’t know then that the best was yet to come. With the rest of the health team at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, I’ve had the opportunity to help support thousands of enrollment assisters who are working with families across the country to make a real difference in how health reform works.
The health reform law is complicated. It provides financial help for health coverage through a tax credit, and it made changes in longstanding rules used to determine Medicaid eligibility. In 2013, after receiving many questions about how coverage and the tax credit would work, we decided to conduct a webinar on how to calculate a premium tax credit. The response was so overwhelming that we repeated it a second time. Our single webinar grew into an ongoing series, as well as support and materials for enrollment assisters and the volunteer tax preparation community dealing with health reform’s tax provisions.
But it isn’t just the training. Through our relationships with assisters, we have learned about policy issues and the barriers families face, and as a result, we’ve developed and recommended workable solutions to HHS and other agencies. I am proud of the effective partnerships we have established with those working throughout the country and here in D.C. to realize the promise of health reform.
Judith Solomon is a vice president for health policy at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities in Washington, DC.