UA Health Sciences Students Help Arizonans Navigate Health Care Enrollment

Open enrollment began Nov. 1 and several University of Arizona medical, public health, pharmacy and nursing students in Tucson and Phoenix have earned certification as application counselors to help Arizonans obtain health insurance.

To help Arizona residents understand the insurance coverage options and financial assistance available at HealthCare.gov, two University of Arizona students founded a program to recruit and train fellow University of Arizona Health Sciences (UAHS) students in Tucson and Phoenix as Certified Application Counselors.  

Arizona has about 75,000 uninsured and 25,000 residents who are up for re-enrollment. The  Students Helping Arizona Register Everyone (SHARE) program aims to help consumers enroll or renew enrollment in the Arizona Health Insurance Marketplace at upcoming events  across Pima and Maricopa Counties. SHARE is now a part of the Arizona Center for Rural Health Navigator Consortium, at the Mel and Enid Zuckerman College of Public Health (COPH). They work in collaboration with the Regional Center for Border Health, Inc. and the Western Region Public Health Training Center, a COPH program sponsored by the Health Resources and Services Administration.

Eric Lander, a UA College of Medicine – Tucson second-year student, together with Jaymus Ryan Lee, a UA College of Medicine – Phoenix second-year student, are co-founders and SHARE leaders. They independently approached Dan Derksen, MD, director of the UA Center for Rural Health and professor of public policy at the UA Mel and Enid Zuckerman College of Public Health, to discuss creating a program to train UAHS students to become certified and help people enroll in health insurance coverage.

Dr. Derksen and the UA Center for Rural Health recently were awarded a $2 million Marketplace Navigator cooperative agreement from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, to enroll and re-enroll hard-to-reach uninsured people living in rural and underserved communities in Arizona. Read more about the grant here.

Lee, a Navajo, said his interest in tribal health policy and the lack of insurance coverage for Native Americans led to the idea of creating SHARE. “The Indian Health Service is one of the primary health-care providers on reservations,” Lee said, “but it is only federally funded at less than 50 percent of what it actually needs to fully care for the Native American population.”

“What has been very satisfying is being able to connect with people as a doctor-in-training and as a health-care advocate. With SHARE, I get to see health care from various angles, helping them enroll in health insurance coverage,” said Lander.     

Lander and Lee work with UA Mel and Enid Zuckerman College of Public Health students Faihza Hill, a second-year student, and Corinna Brower, a first-year student, who are SHARE event leaders. The team coordinates projects with Alyssa Padilla, MPH, the UA Center for Rural Health special projects coordinator.

A total of 28 UA Health Sciences students are certified application counselors. Collectively, they speak Spanish, French, Swahili, Chinese, American Sign Language, Navajo, Kirundi and Kinyarwanda. They have begun staffing community health fairs and enrollment events, in collaboration with the Pima County Enrollment Coalition, in Tucson and  Phoenix with Arizona Public Interest Research Group (PIRG), Cover Arizona and Keogh Health Connection.

The group’s first large-scale public interaction (with more than 10,000 people in attendance) occurred in October at Tucson’s Hope Fest, which provides free health screenings, groceries, haircuts, clothing and other resources.

“At Hope Fest, people were pouring their hearts out on how they wanted to apply for insurance but didn’t know how or where to begin,” said Hill.

In addition to community enrollment events, students have begun scheduling one-on-one appointments in between classes with interested individuals at the UA Health Sciences.

For information about health insurance enrollment and events, or to schedule an appointment with a Navigator, please visit www.coveraz.org/connector. For information about the UA Center for Rural Health Navigator Consortium, please contact Martha Monroy at 520-626-8036, mmonroy@email.arizona.edu

For a complete list of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Navigator awardees, or more information about Navigators and other Marketplace resources, please visit: https://www.cms.gov/CCIIO/Programs-and-Initiatives/Health-Insurance-Marketplaces/assistance.html

About Students Helping Arizona Register Everyone (SHARE)

The SHARE program at the University of Arizona Center for Rural Health is designed for health-care and public-health professions students to train as a Certified Application Counselors. Throughout the certificate year, SHARE participates in health insurance marketplace enrollment events, outreach fairs and office hours. In the process, students learn to navigate the health-care system, be leaders for health and impact the lives of others. Training is provided by the Regional Center for Border Health, Inc. and the Western Region Public Health Training Center.