Volunteers encourage Obamacare sign ups in Union Square

Ariel Guerrera, 28, of East Harlem is a volunteer for Organizing for Action. He has asthma and no health insurance. Photo by Lea Bouchoucha

As the U.S. government shutdown entered its second week, a handful of President Barack Obama’s campaign volunteers came out on Thursday to handout information on the Affordable Care Act aka Obamacare at Union Square in Manhattan.

The event was part of a national day of action promoting Obamacare organized by Organizing For Action (O.F.A.), a nonprofit successor of Obama’s 2012 re-election campaign. The advocacy group was designed to mobilize supporters and promote President Barack Obama’s second term agenda including healthcare, climate change, gun control and immigration reform.

Ariel Guerrera, 28, carried a large blue banner and distributed flyers with contact information to register for federal health insurance. For the past year, the East Harlem resident has volunteered with Organizing For Action.

“It is important for us to let people know where they can get registered [for healthcare],” said Guerrera, “Too many people in this country do not have health insurance and if something happened, it can ruin a life.”

Guerrera has asthma. Since he left his job in February, he doesn’t have health insurance.

“My prescriptions for asthma are very expensive and I can’t afford it right now,” he said. He planned to sign up for insurance through the Affordable Care Act in a few weeks, “I feel lucky for not being sick,” he said.

New York is one of the biggest markets for the new insurance plan. Last Tuesday, the New York State of Health (NYSOH) announced that over 40,000 New Yorkers have signed up for the Affordable Care Act, more than any other state.

“We are one of the few countries in the world that does not have universal health care,” said Guerrera, ”Obamacare changed that.”

Yael Jacoleson-Zieff, 57, an O.F.A. volunteer, lost her job and her health insurance. Photo by Lea Bouchoucha

Yael Jacoleson-Zieff, 57, a volunteer with O.F.A., lost her job and her health insurance during the recession in 2008. Since then, like Guerrera, she has not been able to afford health insurance, until now.

“The system was slow but I think that losing two hours in order to get health insurance, it is not a great sacrifice,” said Jacoleson-Zieff, of the Upper East Side in Manhattan.

Jacoleson-Zieff advocated for Obamacare since the first battles on Capitol Hill, four years ago.

“I believe that health insurance should not be only for rich people,” she said. Nobody should go bankrupt, stay sick or die because they are sick.”

Volunteers promote signing up for insurance through Obamacare (the Affordable Care Act) in Union Square, Photo by Lea Bouchoucha


Sitting in Union Square next to O.F.A. volunteers, three workers from the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Community Center in New York were also helping residents through the process of applying for health insurance.

Called  “navigators”, these workers are hired under federal grants to assist individuals, families, small businesses, and their employees at no cost in the health insurance application and enrollment process.

In July New York state awarded $27 million in grants to 50 diverse organizations like the LGBT Community Center for healthcare outreach.

Janice Cruz, 30, of Bushwick, Brooklyn has worked at the LGBT Community Center’s healthcare outreach for the past month.

“There is a lot of misinformation about healthcare, so it is great to talk to people and make them feel more comfortable,” said Cruz.

According to a report from the liberal think tank Center For American Progress, LGBT people are more likely than the general population to lack health insurance coverage.