Dev’on Cross was six when his mother was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and multiple sclerosis. Years later, Dev’on experienced his own set of health problems, including corneal eye ulcers, brain cysts, deafness in his left ear, and two bouts of pneumonia. And Dev’on has to face yet another problem—he can’t access health care under the Affordable Care Act because his home state of Alabama decided not to expand Medicaid. Dev’on is one of 300,000 Alabamians who would benefit from Medicaid expansion.

Motivated by his experience, Dev’on joined Bama Covered, a student-led service-learning initiative promoting health coverage opportunities in Alabama. Dev’on serves as one of 700 Bama Covered scholars educating fellow Alabamians about their health coverage options. Bama Covered was founded by Josh Carpenter, a Rhodes Scholar from Alabama, and Dan Liss, a Harvard Phi Beta Kappa graduate and former investment banker. The rocky launch of and the spread of misleading information on the ACA motivated Carpenter and Liss to help bridge the coverage gap and benefit the people of Alabama. Both leaders targeted and trained Alabama fraternity and sorority students to enroll classmates, campus staff and community members into affordable health insurance. Bama Covered scholars like Dev’on can be found in most of the state’s 33 colleges and universities. The initiative also serves as an incentive program where students who develop the best outreach and enrollment plan win a $1,000 scholarship from Phi Theta Kappa fraternity.

Bama Covered approached Arise Citizens’ Policy Project offering their student-led initiative to support Arise’s outreach and enrollment efforts. Arise then introduced Bama Covered’s team to their stakeholder and coalition partners leading outreach and enrollment campaigns throughout the state. Arise pitched a plan to Bama Covered for establishing an online searchable map for consumers to find their nearest enrollment and health care resources, similar to Colorado Consumer Health Initiative’s Blue Guide. After Bama Covered accepted their plan, Arise reached out to CCHI on behalf of the Bama Covered’s leaders to develop the “Bama Guide” connecting Alabamians with resources to better understand their insurance options. Bama Covered’s youthful energy has inspired Alabama’s enrollment network to reach farther and enroll many more people in hair salons, barber shops, neighborhoods and college campuses across the state.

The public response to Bama Covered has been extremely positive. The New York Times featured Bama Covered’s innovative enrollment strategies. President Barack Obama sent out a tweet congratulating Bama Covered for helping young people get health coverage. Bama Covered’s work has also been featured on NPR and numerous media outlets across the state of Alabama. Despite barriers to ACA implementation in a difficult environment and a coverage gap from failing to expand Medicaid, more than 55,000 Alabamians enrolled into affordable health plans during the first open enrollment period. The state has reached more than 84 percent of its projected Health and Human Services enrollment goal, above the national average of 75 percent.

Bama Covered is continuing their work at college campuses, public libraries, churches and shopping malls targeting people in the Medicaid coverage gap who want health insurance but don’t qualify for it. An overwhelming number of people reaching out to Bama Covered for help (75 percent) are caught in the coverage gap. With special enrollment periods and Medicaid expansion campaigns moving forward, Bama Covered will keep empowering young people to serve as community resources and sharing stories of Alabamians needing affordable health coverage. The initiative will continue engaging hundreds of student leaders like Dev’on who are working tirelessly getting fellow students, friends and family members covered. Bama Covered demonstrates one of the many ways young people today are making a difference in their communities and changing people’s lives through innovative outreach, education and enrollment efforts.