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Groups mobilizing to enroll Arizonans in health exchange

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PHOENIX – As community leaders and advocates briefed Phoenix College students on the federal health-insurance exchange that launched Tuesday, 18-year-old India Grasso dropped by to learn what she could do if her mother lost her job and benefits.

“Now I know I have some options,” Grasso said.

On the first day that Arizonans could enroll in the new insurance plans offered through the Affordable Care Act, groups mobilized to start enrolling the estimated 1 million Arizonans lacking coverage.

Mary Rose Wilcox, a member of the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors, said serving on the board of the county’s health system drove home the importance of having access to medical care before health problems become life-and-death issues.

“I saw the agony of parents who couldn’t bring their children in until they were deathly sick because they did not have insurance,” Wilcox said.

Herb Schultz, Regional IX director of the U.S. Department Health and Human Services, said that the two primary reasons college students haven’t gotten health coverage will be eliminated under the new insurance rules.

“It’s not that students don’t want health care, it’s a matter that they can’t afford it or that they have pre-existing health care conditions that denied their ability to get insurance,” Schultz said.

Tara McCollum Plese, senior director at Arizona Alliance for Community Health Centers, said that people shouldn’t feel rushed to sign up immediately. Dec. 15 is the deadline for those wishing to be covered by Jan. 1, and enrollment in the federal exchange is open through March 31.

“Take time to look and digest the information, and wait until the end of the month or even Dec. 15,” Plese said.

Andrew Remala, a student, said he was glad to learn more about the Affordable Care Act.

“It’s an essential need of the millennials to actually understand the process and the economics to keep insurance coverage for younger people,” he said.

Organizations elsewhere were busy helping Arizonans learn about their options.

St. Luke’s Health Initiatives fielded so many calls that everyone pitched in answering them, said Jon Ford, a spokesman.

“We are not getting calls from younger people, but we are getting calls from lots of parents asking about options for their adult children,” he said.