DU Alumni

Alumna helps spread the word about Obamacare

"Hopefully we’ll see people get health care, and get healthier, and see health care costs go down — that’s my motivation for of all this,” says Melanie Hererra Bortz. Photo courtesy of Melanie Hererra Bortz

“Hopefully we’ll see people get health care, and get healthier, and see health care costs go down — that’s my motivation for of all this,” says Melanie Herrera Bortz. Photo courtesy of Melanie Herrera Bortz

It hasn’t been an easy path for the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

October’s launch of the exchanges — the online marketplaces where Americans shop and sign up for health plans under the law — was rocky, at best. Sign-ups have been lower than expected, and as the March 31 deadline for enrollment looms, misunderstanding and confusion continue to plague the law.

So you might think that Melanie Herrera Bortz (BA ’88), regional state assistance manager, Western region, for Enroll America — a nonprofit group formed in 2011 to get the word out about the ACA — would be a little worried.

But you’d be wrong.

“I’m not worried at all by the issues with healthcare.gov [the website for the federal exchange],” Bortz says. “This country has never experienced an undertaking like the rollout of the Affordable Care Act. Glitches were expected.”

Instead, Bortz says, she remains focused on outreach and education — both necessary to inform 45 million uninsured Americans about the ACA.

“People are eager to get high-quality, affordable health care insurance offered because of the ACA,” Bortz says.

The ACA is the biggest change ever to happen to the U.S. health care system. Signed into law in March 2010, its implementation has been rolling but its main components went into effect at the start of 2014. These include the individual mandate (the requirement that nearly every American has health insurance); the rule that health insurers have to cover people with pre-existing conditions; the availability of tax credits for individuals to help them afford health insurance; and state-by-state Medicaid expansion.

Suffice it to say, it’s a busy time for Bortz. But she takes things in stride, remembering that enrollment in, and knowledge about, the ACA is a marathon, not a sprint.

“I’m busy, but the work I am doing is groundbreaking and has the potential to transform the lives of millions of people,” she says.

A DU psychology major who earned a master’s in public administration from the University of Colorado-Denver, Bortz works to help Americans understand not just the massive health care reform law, but health insurance in general.

“I talk to consumers about the importance of health insurance — why do people need it — then I talk about how it works,” she says. “I go into the basics — what a copay is, what a premium is — and talk to them about the subsidies [that help lower-income Americans buy insurance] available through the law.”

Bortz already has dedicated years to the ACA. Previously, she implemented some ACA projects in her role as project manager for the Colorado Consumer Health Initiative, and she has spread the word about the law’s benefits to Latinos as co-director of Adelante con la Salud: Latino Health Care Engagement Project, a role in which she still serves. She also remains active at DU, as co-president of the Denver Latino Alumni Association and a member of the Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences Advisory Board.

She says her work educating Latinos on the law has been especially close to her heart.

It’s a big task: Latinos represent nearly 35 percent of the uninsured population, and, according to a recent poll from impreMedia-Latino Decisions, only 12 percent of Latino adults feel very informed about the ACA, compared to a combined 52 percent who felt either “not all that” or “not that” informed.

“Latinos have the most to gain from the ACA because we’re the largest uninsured population,” she says.

Among the gains of the law for that demographic, she says, are preventative services — such as physical exams and vaccines — the expansion of community health care centers and new grants.

“My passion for health care really came from my community of Latinos,” Bortz says. “It came from a place of continually seeing my community not being able to access health care.

“I closely followed the Affordable Care Act, and when it passed, I thought, ‘This is groundbreaking.’ I’m just so passionate about people having access to basic health care, like basic wellness checks and prescriptions,” she continues. “I think the ACA has tremendous potential to really provide health care and health coverage to so many millions of people, and the hope is that we’ll start to see a decrease in chronic health conditions and more health equality in our country. Forty-five million people who are uninsured is not acceptable. My hope is to help shrink that gap and try to make an impact. And hopefully we’ll see people get health care, and get healthier, and see health care costs go down — that’s my motivation for of all this.”


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