Becoming the face of Covered California

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Stella Cheung in her Covered California  photo shoot (The original image is no longer available, please contact KCRW if you need access to the original image.)

Stella Cheung is the face of Covered California,literally. Cheung, an LA-based yoga teacher, had regular insurance, until her physician billed her $130 for preventative care that wasn’t covered. She switched her coverage by signing up for a new plan through Covered California, and found herself on billboards across the state.

Monday is the deadline to enroll for new health coverage. (More on how to do that, here).

Cheung talked to KCRW about her experience.

KCRW: Why did you decide to sign up for Covered California?

STELLA CHEUNG: I signed up under Covered California because I had really expensive insurance, and I worked for myself. I scheduled an appointment to see my doctor for an annual checkup back in December, and I was paying $200 a month for my health insurance, never used it, went to go get my annual checkup and when I got there, the front desk person said “Okay it’s going to cost you $130 today for your checkup.” And I’m like, “but wait a minute, I’m paying insurance and I have insurance and preventative care is supposed to be covered.” And she’s like “Well I don’t know what to say, this is how much its going to cost with your insurance.” And so that really pissed me off, so that was the catalyst for me looking into covered California. Now I’m only paying $98 a month.

KCRW: How did you wind up on the billboards?

SC: A friend told me that they were looking for people that were covered under the new health insurance, and they wanted to interview real people. So I went to go talk to these casting people and they just asked me questions like, “What made you sign up? What was it like without health insurance before if you had a sickness that wasn’t covered?” You know, just my experience with having insurance, not having insurance, and just what it was like for me. And from there, it was sort of like an interview, then I had another interview. And so I guess also because I’m a yoga teacher they thought I’m all about preventative care and really taking care of myself and the fact that I was paying all this money, but really wasn’t being taken care of. I think they liked that angle. I was interviewed several times, then they told me they wanted to do a photo shoot. And the photo shoot, I thought, was just gonna be for marketing materials, and I think they had several people do the photo shoot. From that photo shoot, I asked them what are these photos going to be used for. I vaguely remember them saying, “You’re gonna be all over the place.” But I didn’t know that they were gonna be using my face for billboards.

It wasn’t until friends started spotting me on billboards and they would text me or call me and be like “Hey are you on a billboard?” And i’m like, “I don’t know.” So that’s how it all happened.

KCRW: How has your experience with Obamacare been thus far?

SC: It’s been good, it covers the basics. I can go see my doctor now, knowing it’s only gonna be a $15 or $20 copay, that I can get my annual checkup, my tests, and that it’s all covered. It gives me peace of mind knowing that I can now get all this preventative care and not have to worry about paying an arm and a leg.

Cheung’s friends have been posting photos of her billboards to her Facebook page. (The original image is no longer available, please contact KCRW if you need access to the original image.)

KCRW: Are there any additional benefits to being the face of Covered California?

SC:  Other than my friends spotting me and telling me that they see me everyday? It’s been nice having that support. But no, I have not had additional benefits.

KCRW: Is it awkward seeing your own face everywhere?

SC:  It is, it’s really weird to just drive and see your face up there. Friends who know me, have been asking me if people have been approaching me on the street and it’s nothing like that. It’s really just friends who know that I’m on billboards who will text me and be like, “I saw you” and it’s kind of like an Easter egg hunt. They’ll be like, “I saw you on this intersection.”

KCRW: Did Covered California let you know beforehand?

SC:  I got an email probably after the first week the billboard started to go up, and I started to hear from friends. Then someone in the marketing department at Covered California emailed me and said, “Hey you’re gonna be on billboards, bus stops, print advertisements. Just wanted to let you know and if, you know, some people may approach you from the media. If that happens there’s this contact in our department you can talk to. But there was no warning beforehand, like “Hey, you’re on billboards all over California.’”

KCRW: Do you see a future in billboard advertising?

SC: Possibly, its kind of weird, but maybe I’ll be kind of sad once they go away.