Rallying to Sign Up for Health Care

In the main atrium of Harlem Hospital, representatives from Planned Parenthood, wearing their signature fluorescent pink t-shirts, prepared to take the stage holding matching signs printed with “GET COVERED,” the theme for a rally Wednesday to urge people to sign up for health insurance under the Affordable Care Act.

Another group of employees and volunteers from GetcoveredNYC, a city initiative and the rally’s organizer, were  busily preparing stacks of flyers for people to distribute in their communities. “Let’s get these all ready. It’s important that everyone leave with some and help spread the word,” said Regina Schwartz, director of public engagement for GetcoveredNYC.

One of her colleagues, Mina Schultz, a specialist with the department of Social Services.  was the rally’s keynote speaker. Schultz told how the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, saved her life when she was diagnosed with bone cancer at the age of 25. “The attempts to overturn the Affordable Care Act are not about politics to me,” she said. “This isn’t a debate with two sides. It’s about my life and the lives of others,” said Schultz as she addressed the crowd. “It’s actually really simple: if we take away access to health insurance people like me could die.”

Laura McQuade, CEO of Planned Parenthood NYC, speaks at a rally held to kick off 2018 open enrollment period for the Affordable Care Act at Harlem Hospital. (The Ink/Juan Torres-Falcon)

A diverse audience of  about 200 doctors and nurses in scrubs, public health officials, city employees and supporters of GetCoveredNYC gathered in front of the stage to kick off the beginning of enrollment for 2018. GetCoveredNYC offers free, one-on-one, case management to guide New Yorkers through the enrollment process regardless of immigration status.

Although the Trump administration has shortened the national open enrollment period from three months to six weeks, New York State’s open enrollment period will last for three months, from Nov. 1 to Jan. 31, 2018.  

To make an appointment with a case manager, New Yorkers can call 311 Monday through Friday, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. or text CoveredNYC to 877877 to get enrollment assistance.

More than 3.6 million New Yorkers signed up for coverage through during the 2017 open enrollment period, according to New York State of Health, the state insurance marketplace,  and  the overall uninsured rate dropped from 10 percent in 2013 to 5 percent in 2016.

GetCoveredNYC has partnered with Planned Parenthood, the Callen-Lorde Community Health Center, the LGBT Community Health Center and Gay Men’s Health Center. These organizations help provide health care and support for all New Yorkers, especially women, people of color and the LGBTQ community.     

Kimberly Smith of Callen-Lorde said since the Affordable Care Act, the uninsured rate among their patients dropped from 37 percent to 26 percent.

“As a transgender person the ACA not only represents healthcare,” said Cecilia Gentili of the Gay Men’s Health Center. “It represents protections. It represents being part of the conversation.”

Former President Barack Obama  took to social media early Wednesday morning to encourage Americans to enroll for health insurance through “Obamacare.” In a video posted to Twitter, Obama urged Americans to “Spread the word to make sure everybody knows that it’s time to get covered on HealthCare.gov, because this country works best when we look out for one another.”