It was just past 9:30 a.m. Tuesday and all the screens in Bonnell Hall's BG 25 computer lab at Community College of Philadelphia were alight with the blue-hued healthcare.gov home page.
But the only people in the room for the scheduled Affordable Care Act workshop were Health Federation of Philadelphia certified application counselors Daniel Flynn and Gracie Chang, and navigator Hannah Sendolo.
Where were the students? OK, it was early by college standards, and so cold that ducks were wearing goose down. "They are definitely in their 20s," concluded Sendolo, 25.
Still, since Jan. 28 when the federation came to campus to work with the college's Single Stop program, 106 students have gone through the center to learn about buying health insurance. The federation's staff have enrolled 40 percent of those who qualified.
That percentage is in line with the latest numbers released Wednesday by the Department of Health and Human Services. According to HHS, 27 percent of plans sold on the federal marketplace in January were to young adults (18 to 34), a group considered essential for the program's success. Without young people, the plans will be full of older, sicker people, causing rates to climb.
Enrollment for young adults grew 65 percent in January, going from 489,460 through December to 807,515 by Feb. 1.
In all, nearly 3 million people have bought plans since the marketplace opened on Oct. 1.
"We have been able to enroll people [in plans] for 12 cents a month," said Paula Umaña, director of the college's Single Stop. Students "need health insurance not because there is deadline coming up. They need it to stay healthy so they can work. The college has a role in teaching its students to be ready for the real world."
To get them ready, Single Stop links students to state and federal benefits. Inviting in the federation was a no-brainer. The partners sponsor ACA workshops at the Spring Garden Street campus two or three days a week, with two sessions each day.
Flynn said most students he counsels are unfamiliar with basic terms such as deductibles and co-pays. So each workshop begins with a slide show that covers the ACA basics. After students fill out an application, the federation workers are there to help break down the options.
"If you don't understand the products you are looking at, it can be overwhelming," Flynn said.
Rhefeaq Thompson, 22, was a long way from choosing a plan. The North Philadelphia student said he showed up Tuesday because he knew nothing about the law except that he could be fined for not having insurance.
"I just saw all the posters around campus and I had to see someone who had knowledge about the law," said Thompson, who works as a greeter at Philadelphia International Airport while studying for his associate's degree in behavioral health and human services.
Even though she is insured, Nicetown resident Monica Edmunds came to the 11:30 a.m. workshop to learn more about her options. The 43-year-old with a bachelor's degree is unemployed and in the midst of a career change. She is taking courses to round out her resumé.
"I'm very excited about the law," she said. "It's nice to come in if you have questions and get some answers."
Sitting across the aisle, Erica Carter, 19, had filled out her application and was ready to start policy shopping. The North Philadelphia resident, in her first semester of becoming a dental hygienist, tried enrolling on her own but had trouble. When she saw the posters plastered around campus, she decided to come in.
"I went to Single Stop to see if I could get help to apply and that was the best thing I did," she said.
Being in a health-care curriculum, Carter said, has made her aware of the importance of insurance. Plus her professors are continually reminding students to sign up and buy a policy or risk being fined.
"I know that it's important and I really don't want to be fined," she said.
But one of Carter's biggest motivaters is that she wants to try out for the volleyball team. To do that, she will need to show proof that she has health insurance.