Mina Goes to State of Enrollment

In the spring of my final semester of graduate school, I was busily preparing for my comprehensive exams, preparing my students for their own finals, and trying desperately to figure out what to do next.  The only inkling I had was that I needed to work abroad again, so I began the process of applying for Peace Corps service.  Thanks to my background in teaching, my travel experience, and my proficiency in French, I was assigned to the North Africa/Middle East service region; I was going teach language in either Morocco or Jordan, and I was thrilled.  And then, in April, as I sat in my apartment studying for exams, I noticed the pain.  During visits to my doctor to fill out Peace Corps paperwork, I was told to rest, ice, compress, and elevate my knee.  Just a few weeks after I walked the stage to get my Master’s degree, an MRI showed the tumor, growing out of my femur and into my knee joint. I was told to stop walking immediately, my application for the Peace Corps was withdrawn, and I spent the next year of my life receiving one of the harshest chemotherapy regimens in medicine. 

Following treatment, I took a job working with disabled individuals.  I did this because, 1) I had realized health care was a career route I wanted to take, 2) after a year of being too weak to be able to care for myself, and having to relearn to walk, I could relate to those who are limited in their abilities, and 3) the job offered health insurance, which was, at the time, still not otherwise available to those with pre-existing conditions.  Soon after, the Affordable Care Act rolled out the exchanges, and I took a position as a Certified Application Counselor at a community health center, where I could use my teaching skills and my firsthand knowledge of the medical system to explain the benefits of having health insurance.  My job is to explain what the law does and what it doesn’t do, educate consumers about health coverage, and help them enroll if they need to.  On a daily basis, I see health care consumers who simply do not know how to access the services they need (e.g. insurance, referrals to mental health providers, dental care, prescription assistance).  In this part of the country, many are still hostile toward health insurance and Medicaid, and, in some cases, even doctors, mostly due to lack of understanding of the medical system and the law.  Health literacy is extremely low; the average consumer who visits my office cannot tell me how coinsurance works or the difference between Medicare and Medicaid.  And so, each day, I pull on my educator boots, and give a language lesson- the language of health coverage.  I educate without politicking, and I advocate without preaching.  When consumers leave my desk, they know what their insurance covers, how to use it, and the phone number of a real person they can call if there are questions. 

Every May, following the close of Open Enrollment, Enroll America hosts its annual State of Enrollment conference in Washington, D.C.  This is when all the assisters in the U.S. gather to discuss the successes and challenges of the recent Open Enrollment period for Health Insurance Marketplace (or around here, Obamacare) coverage, share best practices, and begin planning for the next OE.  While part of my job is to attend conferences like these, I am a grant-funded employee, and only get to go to one conference per year on my budget.  I recently attended the Families USA Health Action conference, and had an absolute blast.  However, since I was given that opportunity, I no longer have the funding to attend this second conference.  The networking and education from which I would benefit at State of Enrollment would allow me to continue to progress in my career, and better help the consumers with whom I work, day in and day out.  The cost to attend is $1,550, which includes registration, hotel, airfare, and airport transportation.  This is a reduced, early-bird price, which increases after April 15.  I would greatly appreciate any help getting to this conference.  I am about to start graduate school at George Washington, for my second Master's degree, in Public Health-Health Policy, so this conference is essential to my ultimate career goals, and the information gained there will give me a leg up in my studies.   Thank you so much for your support!
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Mina Richards 
Fairmont, WV
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