Canvassers brave streets, yards to spread word about health care law
BY RACHEL COOK Californian staff writer firstname.lastname@example.org
The house seemed harmless.
An open driveway led to a dusty front yard and white tire swing with the word “Dream” scrawled on it hung from a tree.
“It’s exciting, especially when you find someone who’s uninsured and they realize they could actually get coverage.”
— Karla Zonbro, field director for California Calls
Canvassers Amando Gayosso and Peter Villa strode toward the east Bakersfield home, ready to launch into their spiel about the Affordable Care Act.
But a few steps into the yard, one dog appeared. Then another. Then another.
One hound, a beefy unrestrained rottweiler, kicked up dust as it charged and barked at the two young men.
But Villa and Gayosso remained calm, moseyed down the driveway and back onto the road. They knew that the yards of Bakersfield can be inhospitable.
For the last week, Villa and Gayosso have braved dogs, slammed doors and sprinklers as they tried to chat with voters about one of the country’s most divisive laws.
They hope to set the record straight on what the Affordable Care Act, also referred to as “Obamacare,” means for people and to encourage folks who are eligible for new insurance options to sign up.
The two canvassers are part of a network of about 300 paid workers and about 700 volunteers staffing a statewide campaign to spread information about the Affordable Care Act.
The four-week outreach effort is coordinated by the group California Calls through local partner organizations in 12 counties ranging from San Diego in the south to San Francisco in the north.
Millions of Californians and tens of thousands of Kern County residents are predicted to gain access to insurance under the Affordable Care Act, but outreach workers said they are up against a lot of misinformation about the health care reform law. For example, Karla Zombro, field director for California Calls, said some people don’t know that California is expanding its Medicaid program, known as Medi-Cal, so more people are eligible to enroll.
The campaign is a great way to have a direct conversation with people and answer their questions, she said.
“It’s exciting, especially when you find someone who’s uninsured and they realize they could actually get coverage,” she said.
In Kern County, California Calls teamed up with the Dolores Huerta Foundation to reach voters through phone banking and door-to-door visits. They had already reached 5,440 residents as of Friday.
On Saturday morning, Villa and Gayosso added to the tally as they trolled Rosewood Avenue, Royal Way and Fillmore Avenue. Villa, 23, and Gayosso, 19, tapped gates with their keys to draw people out of houses with fenced yards. They repeatedly pressed doorbells and rapped on doors with no answer in return.
Still, they said it’s exciting and important work. Villa is glad that people who are sick will no longer be denied insurance because of their conditions. Gayosso knows what it’s like to go without health care coverage and how good it felt when he finally got insurance.
“We usually (talk to) people who already have insurance, but they do support (the Affordable Care Act)” for people who don’t have insurance, Villa said. If people are interested in signing up for insurance, Villa said the canvassers give them several entities to contact for more information, including Covered California, the state-run health benefit’s exchange, and local health care nonprofit Clinica Sierra Vista.
On this particular warm morning, the pair stopped by about 20 houses, but were only able to speak with people at about seven homes. For the people willing to answer a few questions, Villa and Gayosso told them a bit about the law and asked if they support it.
One resident of the neighborhood they canvassed said she appreciated what Villa and Gayosso were doing, though she already has insurance. Standing just inside her front door, Juana Valdenegro, 29, said she has Medi-Cal and so does the rest of her family. Valdenegro, who has six children and is self-employed as a tree trimmer, said she has heard that people will be required to have insurance under the new law.
“It’s good” that Villa and Gayosso were going door to door, she said, because they were helping people understand what the law is about. No one would like to have their job because you don’t know how rude people might be, she laughed.
The two men won’t be standing up to yapping canines and locked gates much longer.
The four-week statewide campaign concludes Sunday and organizers were confident that they would surpass their goal of contacting 100,000 people. The outreach efforts had already reached more than 99,000 voters as of Friday.