Mayra Alvarez - the Director of Public Health Policy in the Office of Health Reform at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services - has a very special message for her sister and other Latinos across the country.

Mayra Alvarez – the Director of Public Health Policy in the Office of Health Reform at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services – has a very special message for her sister and other Latinos across the country. (Photo/Courtesy Mayra Alvarez)

Op-ed: A big sister’s advice – get covered!

Alejandra was born when I was eleven years old. She’s sassy, smart, beautiful, but first and foremost, my baby sister. Our two older sisters and I have done our best to keep her safe and healthy.  Today, Alejandra is attending Kaplan College in southern California, on her way to becoming a patient care technician and, someday, a nurse practitioner. As a soon-to-be health care professional, she has certain medical requirements for the school year; when she went to the doctor’s office, she sent me a text message that said, “I paid $300 by myself. For a checkup and some shots.”  It’s Alejandra I think about when I consider the importance of the Marketplaces launching this October.

If you’re a young person like Alejandra, you might not be thinking a lot about health insurance—until the day you need it.  You’ve got other priorities.  But what if you get into an accident, are diagnosed with a serious illness, or have certain medical requirements for school or work?  Today, Alejandra knows firsthand the importance of health insurance, and what it means for her and other young adults across the country.

The Affordable Care Act is expanding affordable health insurance options for young adults in several ways.  If you’re under 26, you can now be insured as a dependent on your parent’s plan, with a couple of exceptions — for instance, if you are eligible for your own job-based coverage. Also, new health plans must now cover many critical preventive services at no out-of-pocket cost.  The $300 bill Alejandra paid for her checkup?  That could’ve been free.

And there’s more. When the new Marketplaces open for enrollment in October for coverage beginning as soon as January 1st, 2014, individuals and small business owners will be able to compare their options for buying health insurance and find the quality plan that best fits their budget.  The Marketplaces will be competitive, transparent, and simple to navigate—and while you’ll be able to shop for coverage over the phone or in person, if you’re like Alejandra, you’ll probably prefer to check out your new options online through the easy-to-use Marketplace website, healthcare.gov.

Of course, if Alejandra needs help navigating the application, she’ll have it.  And if she needs help paying for coverage, she’ll have help with that too.  If you make less than $45,000, and your job doesn’t offer affordable coverage, you may get financial assistance to help pay for insurance. Another option, if you make less than $15,000, may be Medicaid, which will be expanding in many states beginning in 2014.

Alejandra, like so many other young adults across the country, is just trying to make something of herself. She’s doing her best to make ends meet in order to take that next step in life. Fortunately for my sister, she’ll have one more tool to ensure her long-term health and financial stability – affordable health coverage. Open enrollment in the health insurance marketplace begins on October 1, 2013, and it can’t come soon enough for Alejandra and millions of other young adults in need of health coverage.

I hope all of us who are big sisters, brothers, friends, or neighbors can help spread the word about this great opportunity. I know I will.

Mayra Alvarez_HHS Photo 2011 edited

Mayra Alvarez is the Director of Public Health Policy in the Office of Health Reform at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. She is also a proud big sister.

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