Health insurance can be complicated and understanding how to get covered can be difficult. Students at a specialized charter school in Albuquerque are producing podcasts to help people navigate the health insurance system.
In a small classroom, three high schoolers quickly shuffle scripts around a single microphone. They give a nod to their guests across the table and press record.
“Ok go! Hi! I’m Pasqual Pino... I’m Iliana Esparza... and I’m Pearla Juarez and we’re here at Health Leadership High School, and we’re going to be asking questions about healthcare today.”
The topic is how to get covered under the state’s Medicaid system and the students take turns asking about how it works. It’s their first time conducting an interview and afterwards they’re giddy.
“At first I was like really nervous, like oh my gosh we’re are going to be interviewing people we don’t even know. We don’t know what to expect,” said sophomore Iliana Esparza. “And then as soon as we got into the room and saw everyone it was a lot better.”
Esparza and her co-hosts rejoin their peers across the hall. They sit on desks, tap away on laptops, or draw informational posters — and all of them are talking about health insurance.
There are about 233,000 uninsured people living in New Mexico – that’s more than 10 percent of the state.
Sophomore Norma Alvezpeña says she’s learning about how important it is to have health insurance.
“What kind of insurance there is, and what kind of insurance should not get and not and if you don’t pay for your insurance you could get a really big bill,” she says.
One of the missions of the Health Leadership High School is to do outreach with communities across New Mexico. Norma’s teacher Owen Brown says initially, finding out how to get to students interested in health insurance and fulfill that mission was a puzzle.
But the teachers found a way to hook students with something they were familiar with. “You know, when we first started this class, the majority of them did not know what health insurance was or even if they had health insurance,” said Brown, “but most of them listened to a podcast!”
It’s been chaotic, but fellow teacher Sanjog Singh says the students are having a blast exploring their creativity.
The plan is to post the podcasts on iTunes and share them on social media sites. Linda Wedeen of the state health insurance exchange says reaching uninsured people can be tough.
“New Mexico is a huge geographic state and a low population state,” said Weeden. “The biggest challenge is: how do we get to everyone we need to get to when they might be 75 miles away and live in a town that’s only got 6,000 people?”
Wedeen says a podcast could be a good way to reach folks who are struggling to find the right health insurance, but remember, podcasts are only available online.
“A lot of these rural communities don’t have internet,” she said. “So they utilize their cell phones. If you could download a podcast over your cell phone that would be ok. Again it’d have to be really accessible”
Accessible information about Medicaid eligibility, co-pays, premiums, preferred providers – it’s all supposed to be covered in the podcasts.
Perla Juarez says she’s happy to learn about something that she’ll use throughout her life.
“It just teaches us things like insurances, taxes, and premiums, deductibles. All that stuff, I didn’t know about any of that stuff until I came here,” said Juarez.
Iliana Esparza has even become her household’s go-to for health insurance questions.
“A few days ago my mom, she was asking me what I did [at school]. I said, ‘We’re learning about health care, Medicare, and supplement plans and all that stuff. She was like ‘What?” It’s really fun, it’s like I’m the expert over there at home,” said Esparza.
Teacher Owen Brown says he was happily surprised at how enthusiastic students are.
“Honestly, I wasn’t sure how this class would go, because health insurance is about as dry as desert as far as teenage interest goes,” said Brown. “The most fun has been seeing them become interested in this. They’ll come in and say, ‘I talked to my mom about health insurance!’”
And that’s music to a teacher’s ears.
The podcasts will be available on Health Leadership High School's webpage.
KUNM’s Public Health New Mexico project is funded by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation and Con Alma Health Foundation. Find out more online at publichealthnm.org.