Miami-Dade County

UM med school students trained to enroll people in Obamacare

Just over five weeks before Obamacare open enrollment ends, University of Miami President Donna Shalala announced Wednesday that UM’s Miller School of Medicine students will serve in a new role: helping people understand their health coverage options and enroll in insurance plans.

About 60 students have completed training to become certified application counselors, or CACs, as part of the school’s community service program. In their new role, students will gain a new perspective of the healthcare system while helping to enroll Miami-Dade’s uninsured population, the fourth-highest among all counties nationwide.

The CACs are federally trained, unpaid volunteers who guide people through the Affordable Care Act and its enrollment process. Fourth-year medical student Rimsky Denis said his experience assisting patients has been eye-opening.

“We’re taught in school how to diagnose and treat medical conditions, but not about the complexities of health insurance,” Denis said. “After becoming a CAC, I feel like I understand much better what patients go through to get the care they deserve.”

Dr. Mark O’Connell, the medical school’s senior associate dean of educational development, said the program solves a problem the students run into when they diagnose patients with a disease such as diabetes, but have nowhere to send them because they are uninsured. “The ACA is an opportunity to plug them into the healthcare system,” O’Connell said.

The UM initiative came about through a partnership with Health Council of South Florida and Enroll America, a nonprofit organization focused on maximizing the number of Americans who enroll in health coverage. The students will assist people from noon to 4:00 p.m. Monday through Friday at outdoor tables on the Miller School’s downtown campus.

Through a recent agreement with Jackson Health System, UM medical school students will also supplement the efforts of Jackson’s ACA navigators, helping inform and enroll people in health plans while they wait to see their Jackson doctors.

Denis said the patients he helps are often uninsured because they or a family member lost their jobs. He said his most gratifying experience was helping an unemployed Key West man whose glucose level had shot up because he could no longer afford blood pressure medication. He and other students helped the man enroll in a health plan, found him a local primary-care physician and scheduled his first appointment.

“That’s such a powerful experience for a future physician,” Denis said. “It gives us a consciousness and a context we would never get anywhere else.”

This story was produced in collaboration with Kaiser Health News, an editorially independent program of the Kaiser Family Foundation.