07 August 2013

Mapping ACA Insurance Enrollment: Lauren Slowik and West Virginia FREE

This summer, Ms. launched its inaugural fellowship program with New York City’s Parsons The New School for Design, pairing three Parsons MFA design students and graduates with three different Ms. grantees working in reproductive justice. With an eye on serving economically, racially and geographically marginalized women in particular, the partnerships will produce public education campaigns and interactive tools to better equip women and girls in the fight for their right to accessible, comprehensive health care. 

By Contessa Gayles, Ms. Foundation intern and graduate student in journalism at NYU

“As someone who has had a very personal struggle with my own health, I believe that women should be empowered by their health choices – not just merely have access to the bare minimum of care,” Lauren Slowik, 30, tells Ms.

Slowik’s condition lasted the bulk of her 20s and required three different surgeries. Her multiple health insurance providers constantly tried to find ways to categorize her costly illness as a pre-existing condition in a bid to deny her coverage. Now a graduate from Parsons’ Design and Technology MFA program and a new Adjunct Professor of Interaction Design at Parsons, Slowik is using her skill set to help other women access affordable care.

She is paired with Ms. grantee West Virginia FREE (WV FREE), a Charleston, WV-based reproductive justice organization working to increase access to affordable reproductive health care. Ahead of the Oct. 1 start of the enrollment period for insurance plans through President Obama’s Affordable Care Act health exchanges, Slowik is developing a mobile-friendly, browser-based web map to help direct West Virginians to in-person enrollment assistance locations. The  benefits of the ACA – including the ban on gender-based discrimination in insurance coverage and costs, women’s preventive services and contraception mandates and Medicaid expansion – present an unprecedented opportunity for women, particularly low-income women, to access the comprehensive care they deserve. This is particularly important in West Virginia, where nearly a quarter of women report not visiting a doctor due to costs – one of the highest state rates in the nation.  

Unfortunately, working-class Appalachian communities in the state’s rural locations are being left out of the mainstream ACA outreach. “Federal resources for public education around the Affordable Care Act are being redirected to states and locations with a higher density of people,” WV FREE Education and Outreach Manager Rachel Huff explains. “There is a gaping hole in outreach.” While the mountainous topography and the lack of broadband Internet access that results make face-to-face insurance education and enrollment all the more crucial, Slowik and WV FREE will turn to grassroots organizing and communications to make sure as many women have access to the mapping tool as possible.

Here's more from the series on Ms.' 2013 Parsons fellows: A Tool to Teach Health Literacy: Paweena Prachanronarong and Young Women United.

Return to the Ms. Foundation for Women website

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