"For too long, people of color and the LGBT community have been left out when it comes to health coverage," said Levana Layendecker of Equality Pennsylvania, a cosponsor of the initiative. "We want to make sure that everyone knows that there are affordable options, limits on all discrimination, including sexual orientation and gender identity, and coverage even if you have a preexisting condition."
If Congreso de Latinos Unidos is any indication, people in those communities are already snapping up low-cost ACA plans.
In October, Congreso's navigator and certified counselors were having to apologize for a website that booted consumers after a few screens. Now, with healthcare.gov handling demand with aplomb, Congreso's advisers are so busy the group has had to hire more help.
"We are enrolling people in the marketplace and people are getting silver-tier plans for 10 cents a month," said Congreso manager Judith Ferguson, who represented the group Monday. "The feeling is really positive."
Lack of access to resources such as computers has kept many people from signing up, said Jennie Miller of Project HOME, the homeless advocacy group. But even when people are matched with helpers, they may need as many as eight conversations before they buy.
"It's about breaking down barriers," said Miller, the group's director of advocacy and public policy. "People want insurance. They want to be healthy and take care of themselves. We are trying to support them and get them signed up."
Until recently, Andrew Kunka was scraping together $180 a month to pay for a plan. That was difficult because the 28-year-old lawyer had been unemployed since graduating in 2012 and was living on unemployment. But it was a good thing he did. In November, Kunka found himself lying on a gurney in an emergency room. His eight-hour stay cost $5,000, but because he was covered, he paid only $100.
"I knew that if I didn't pay [the premium] and something happened to me that I was essentially screwed," he said.
A month later, Kunka called healthcare.gov's customer service and, with help, bought a proactive silver plan from Independence Blue Cross. His premium: 13 cents a month. But Kunka won't be keeping his plan. He recently landed a job with Equality PA that offers health insurance. Still, his experience showed him the importance of the ACA.
"We are talking about the greatest social policy since Social Security," he said. "To the masses, this is historical. This is something we need. I think people are going to look back and think, 'I heard negative things [about the ACA] but it changed the country for the better.' "
Having insurance has changed Churchill's life. Not having it was so scary and embarrassing she would whisper she was uninsured when asked by the receptionist at her doctor's office.
So when the marketplace opened in October, Churchill was on the phone primed to buy. An adviser tried to sign her up but couldn't. Time and again, Churchill tried but failed to get enrolled.
She didn't give up.
Finally on Jan. 6, Churchill bought a silver-tier proactive HMO plan from Independence for 26 cents a month.
"I went down to 1900 Market St. [IBC's corporate headquarters] and paid the lady" for the whole year, she said. Her bill came to $3.12.
Since then, Churchill has been telling anyone who needs insurance to go to healthcare.gov and enroll.
"I keep saying to people that [the ACA] works," Churchill said. "Just keep trying. Try, try, and apply."
FOR MORE INFORMATION
Resources for Human Development
The Health Federation of Philadelphia 215-567-8001
Mental Health Association of Southeastern Pennsylvania 267-507-3894
Center for Family Services
This article was produced in partnership with Kaiser Health News, an editorially independent program of the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, a nonprofit, nonpartisan health-policy research and communication organization not affiliated with Kaiser Permanente.