What’s with Obamacare and the Gay Crowd

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Washington’s new health insurance exchange dispatched a sign-up envoy to one of the city’s gay clubs one recent night to get out the word about Obamacare. It envisioned men mingling on the dance floor, a cocktail in one hand and enrollment information in the other.

But the brochures about DC Health Link, as the exchange is called, weren’t snapped up as quickly as the free condoms provided by a local clinic.

Like other health exchanges and coverage advocacy groups across the country, DC Health Link is reaching out to people wherever they may be, including bars. President Barack Obama even urged bartenders — who may themselves be uninsured — to hold happy hours to talk about health insurance and what it can offer young adults.

That strategy has clear challenges, however. In a packed nightclub like Town Danceboutique in Northwest D.C., music smothers conversation, dimmed lights make reading difficult, and health coverage is not what’s on people’s minds.

“They’re looking to let loose. They’re not looking to talk about serious topics,” patron Maven Saleh said as he surveyed the Town crowd on a winter weekend.

gay-saxaphone-santaAdd an appearance by Santa wearing a “Naughty” hat as he posed for pictures on stage, and DC Health Link assister John Esposito had a near-impossible task that night. Positioned behind the stage and bar area, he stood by a small table offering not just information about insurance enrollment but packages of condoms and tubes of lubricant. The latter items were courtesy of the Whitman-Walker Clinic, which also had its HIV testing van parked outside.

“It’s not about drawing a huge drove of people to the system,” explained an upbeat Esposito, who by day is stationed at Whitman-Walker as part of the DC exchange’s ongoing work with the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community.

After getting off to a disastrous start Oct. 1, the enrollment push is intensifying as the first hard Obamacare sign-up deadline nears. Individuals who want health coverage starting Jan. 1 must pick a plan by Monday and pay their first premium before the ball drops on New Year’s Eve. So in Washington and cities across the country, advocates are trying to cover traditional bases like colleges, worship places and grocery stores plus some less typical places — like under the sparkling disco ball at Town Danceboutique.

Several weeks ago, hundreds of people showed up at the downtown D.C. library for an enrollment fair featuring a children’s moon bounce and an adult Zumba class. This past weekend, local assisters were posted at two shoe stores to catch young people out shopping because of the long-awaited relaunch of Air Jordan Taxi sneakers. Other sign-up workers stayed up late to greet diners chowing down on bacon and eggs at a Denny’s after a rowdy night out. The goal is to drive sign-ups well past the 5,063 individuals and families that had applied for coverage as of Dec. 10, the latest DC figures made public.

Read more at Politico.

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