FSU students work toward certification as counselors to help people navigate the Affordable Care Act

Health care students at Fayetteville State University are getting real-world lessons on the Affordable Care Act through a new service learning class.This summer, professor Beth Hogan decided that teaching the Affordable Care Act might be more effective if she turned her health care management class into an avenue to become a certified application counselor – someone trained to help consumers apply for coverage through the Health Insurance Marketplace. So she turned her class into a service learning course, and partnering with Cumberland HealthNET, certified her students and then sent her newly-trained application counselors into the community to help people learn about the Affordable Care Act.

“The more engaged a student is, the more they learn,” Hogan said.

With all the misinformation there is about the Affordable Care Act, her students can be part of the solution, she said.

The reviews from the class were so good, she’s continuing the program this semester, she said.

“I got relief from just being educated on it, because there’s so much noise,” senior health care management student Donovan Blount said of the politics surrounding the controversial health care law, often called Obamacare.

But learning the ins and outs of the law and being able to share it with others, he said, “it’s really reassuring.”

The experience working with Cumberland HealthNET, he said, emphasized that those in need of medical coverage are everyday people, with families and homes, and not some dissociated word or faceless entity.

“With all the wealth of information that came together, it was just unanimous that you can’t say it’s a bad thing,” he said.

Georgia Stewart, program manager at Cumberland HealthNET, said when she first visited Hogan’s classes, she was pelted with questions by skeptics of the health law. But by the end of the class, the skeptics were few and far between.

“Sure, it may not be perfect for everyone, and there will be pros and cons,” she said, but “just to see students make that drastic change in a short summer class and get a lot out of it was just amazing.”

The students brought more than their recent training to help in the community, Stewart said, adding that most are technology gurus.

“When there are people who come along who don’t have insurance and they don’t have an email address, they don’t understand the website, you’ve got people who that’s right up their alley,” Stewart said. “It’s really been a blessing for everyone.”

Melissa Lyon, a program manager with the university’s Office of Civic Engagement and Service Learning, said the new program fits nicely with the university’s emphasis on community engagement.

“This isn’t an internship, it’s not volunteering, it’s service learning,” she said. “It’s actually part of their coursework.”

Jeff Womble, assistant vice chancellor for public relations, said health care management is one of the most rapidly growing programs in the School of Business and Economics. The university offers a concentration in health care management, and a new bachelor of science degree in health care administration has been approved by the UNC Board of Governors and is pending final approval from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools.

Da’Quan Baldwin, a senior health care management student, said participating in the program has helped improve his job prospects in the field. Although he doesn’t yet have his degree, his work over the summer helped him get a job with an urgent care center.

“From my hands-on experience and being certified, I’m able to tell people that don’t have insurance about how to get insured, and that’s what I do with this position,” he said.

“They took a chance and hired me before I got my bachelor’s degree,” he said, adding there’s a possibility it could become full-time. “It’s really helped me.”

Staff writer Paige Rentz can be reached at rentzp@fayobserver.com or 486-2728.

This article originally appeared in the Fayetteville Observer on October 13, 2014

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