Many Americans might find the Affordable Care Act difficult to understand, and some may feel daunted by the task of enrolling in health insurance under the new law, but a group of Hamilton College students is helping make the process easier for the surrounding community.

Alex Mitko ’16 founded the Hamilton Healthcare Network, an organization committed to educating people about the Affordable Care Act and assisting with the process of signing up for health insurance through the new federal and state exchanges. Austin Durham ’15, John DeGuardi ’16, Elizabeth Larson ’16, Patrick Marris ’16, and Alex Kaplan ’16 are also involved in the group.

Under the new healthcare law, uninsured Americans are required to enroll in a health insurance plan by Mar. 31, 2014, or face a financial penalty. In order to facilitate enrollment, the federal government has launched www.healthcare.gov, an online marketplace where individuals can compare available plans and apply for coverage.

States have also established their own health insurance exchanges, including New York’s www.healthbenefitexchange.ny.gov. Many Americans have experienced difficulty navigating these websites in recent months, which is where Hamilton Healthcare Network comes in.

In an effort to help uninsured community members meet the March 31 enrollment deadline, Hamilton Healthcare Network is holding free information sessions each Saturday from 12:30-3:30 p.m. in a computer lab at the Utica Public Library.

During each session, members of the organization are on hand to answer questions about the Affordable Care Act, hand out flyers, and help individuals and families enroll in plans through the new marketplaces.

The six students involved with the Hamilton Healthcare Network have learned the ins and outs of the enrollment websites with assistance from the Mohawk Valley Perinatal Network, an organization specially trained to help community members navigate the health insurance marketplaces. Hamilton College’s Community Outreach and Opportunity Project (COOP) has also helped the group get off the ground. The network held its first official session on Saturday, Jan. 25.

Mitko was inspired to create the Hamilton Healthcare Network after realizing the difficulty many Americans were experiencing with the marketplace websites. “It’s a complicated process to get everyone signed up within a few months,” said Mitko. At the same time, he explains, “it’s important to think ahead and get covered, because not having insurance can ruin the rest of your life.”

The group looks forward to assisting as many people as possible in the coming weeks. While the Mar. 31 enrollment deadline looms just two months away, Mitko insists “anything we can do to help is worth it.”

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