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Creighton social work students earn certification to help with ACA signups

Creighton social work students studying for certification to become Certified Application Counselors to help people apply for insurance through the Affordable Care Act.Final exams are much on the minds of Creighton University students in these waning days of the fall semester.

For all the import and consequence of the academic term’s last gasp, 11 Creighton social work juniors took a sort of final exam of higher note last month when they trained for, studied for and passed a test allowing them to become certified application counselors (CAC) for people seeking to enroll in health insurance plans under the Affordable Care Act.

“It’s a proud moment for me as a professor,” said Barb Harris, PhD, director of Creighton’s Social Work Program in the College of Arts and Sciences, who has been guiding many of the students through coursework on vulnerable populations and the questions of health care coverage inequality. “To master this material, at this level, is a real commitment they undertook completely independent of their studies at Creighton. But it’s also an outgrowth of everything they’ve learned here to become men and women for and with others. They recognize this as a critical civil rights issue of their generation.”

Intervening during the study period for their certification were two events of significance — both motivational in their own way.

On Oct. 27, the Creighton students, along with about 25,000 other CACs and people helping facilitate the health insurance application process, participated in a teleconference with President Barack Obama. The President thanked all those on the call for their diligence and dedication in helping with the effort of finding coverage for 20 million people in the U.S. who would not otherwise have health insurance.

“That was awesome,” said Nora Barry, a junior social work and health care administration major who passed the CAC exam and was on the call with Obama. “The President talked about those things we talk about when it comes to health insurance: it’s important that you have it, but it’s also important to know why you should have it. For him to come on the call and thank us all for our work and to remind us that we are not only helping people get signed up but that we’re advocating for health care literacy, it felt personal and rewarding.”

Even with so many people on the call — the White House noted it as the largest such communication to ever take place between the President and a group of citizens — Barry and Hollie Christensen, a junior social work and medical anthropology major, said they were stirred listening to the President speak about their undertaking.

“Just having that many people on this one call was something,” Christensen said. “If there are that many people wanting to be advocates for health care and health insurance and we’re all in this together, that’s inspiring.”

The second motivational moment occurred Nov. 8. That day, the presidential election put forth the nation’s next leader, a candidate who had heretofore pledged to dismantle the ACA.

Stunned, the students wondered what the next steps might bring. On Nov. 10, they convened for their usual study session and Harris took a photograph of the moment. In various attitudes of study, the students look contemplative, curious. More than a few are smiling. There are honest and discerning looks being passed as information and ideas are shared.

“I think we all anticipated the election would go a different way,” Barry said. “But it has become a driving force in its own way. There’s nothing we can do about it now. The attitude for us has been, ‘I’m going to finish this.’ And when you’re involved in a community like we are, we came together and decided that we’re not going to let it be a defeat. We’re going to keep doing what we’ve been doing. Nobody knows what the future holds, so we’re just doing what we know we can do today.”

For the newly-minted Creighton CACs, that work this week includes helping people get signed up for health insurance through a new partnership with the Charles Drew Health Center in Omaha, and also becoming involved in health care and coverage advocacy work with a program called the White House Challenge.

The Challenge involves getting twentysomethings, a generation known to health care workers as “the Invincibles,” signed up for coverage or made aware that they can be covered through their parents’ plans. National Youth Enrollment day is Dec. 10 and Dec. 15 is the last date to enroll for coverage that starts Jan. 1, and the final day that 2016 enrollees can change policies before being automatically reenrolled in their previous plan.

Creighton is one of 350 colleges and universities taking up the challenge, and is one of three Jesuit schools involved.

Thus, the daily work continues as the ACA remains the law of the land, said Monica White, MSW, who serves as the Social Work Program Field Education Supervisor for Creighton.

“Truly, as social workers, whatever happens with the Act or health care, we will still be on the front lines,” she said. “Whether it goes away or not, we’ll continue to familiarize ourselves with the modules or the new modules and we’ll go through whatever we need to go through to see that people are covered. That’s what has been most inspiring to us with these students. They are committed to making sure justice is done.”

Creighton’s CACs will also be helping the wider population get signed up for health insurance before the Jan. 31 deadline for 2017 health insurance coverage.

More than anything, however, both Barry and Christensen — by dint of their study of the vast system that is the ACA — said they hope they can carry on meaningful, deliberative conversations about health care.

“We know that there are flaws in the ACA, just as there are flaws with how insurance companies operate,” Christensen said. “My family has been on that side of it, with being taken off plans. What’s important is that we look into why that’s happening and how that’s happening and address the flaws and determining where problems exist with insurance companies themselves and where things can be improved in the ACA. We need more people to be open to that conversation.”

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