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Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Lack of Awareness of Health Insurance Marketplace Accounts for Low Latino Enrollment

Rachel Klein

Director of Organizational Strategy

According to new data released by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), Latinos—the racial and ethnic group with the highest uninsured rate in the nation—have much to gain from the Affordable Care Act. And yet, anecdotal evidence suggests that this population is not enrolling for health coverage at the level that one would expect for a group with such high numbers of uninsured.

Of the 41 million uninsured (who are also lawful U.S. residents, and thus potentially eligible for coverage under the Affordable Care Act), 10 million—25 percent of the uninsured—are Latino. 
And the vast majority of Latinos—80 percent or 8.1 million—are eligible for financial assistance for plans purchased in a health insurance marketplace or for free or low-cost insurance through Medicaid or the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP).  

Latinos suffer disproportionately from some chronic and serious diseases, making health coverage critical

One out of three Latinos is uninsured. At the same time, Latinos are also more likely to suffer from certain chronic and serious diseases, and they are more likely to get sicker and die from them. 

For example, Latinos have among the highest diagnosis and death rates for heart disease, diabetes, and cervical cancer in the U.S. Reliable access to high quality, affordable health care is critical for increasing prevention and giving Latinos the care to effectively manage these conditions and avoid more serious complications.

Barriers to health coverage for Latinos

Anecdotal evidence points to relatively low rates of enrollment for a population with such a demonstrated need for health insurance. Here are some reasons why Latinos may not be enrolling:

  1. Lack of Medicaid expansion: HHS data find that approximately 2 million uninsured Latinos live in states that have not chosen to expand Medicaid for low-income people, and have incomes below the federal poverty level. New health coverage options may not be available to this population. 
  2. Lack of awareness: Latinos are not enrolling because they simply don’t know that they can get health coverage through the health insurance marketplaces. The Commonwealth Fund found that just 49 percent of potentially eligible Latinos were aware of their state health insurance marketplace’s existence, compared to 70 percent of white and African American respondents. Enroll America found that three-quarters of Latinos are unaware of the financial help available to make insurance more affordable. 
  3. Delayed release of Spanish-language materials and website: In the early days of the open enrollment period, these important resources were delayed, making it more difficult to conduct outreach in Spanish-speaking communities. 

California is taking steps to increase Latino enrollment

Although good demographic data on overall Latino enrollment are not yet available for most states, there are data for California. The state (which has the highest number of uninsured Latinos), recently released data showing that Latinos make up 28 percent of enrollees so far. That’s a marked increase from December’s 18 percent enrollment number—a sign of California’s progress. But even in California, Latinos still comprise more than half of the uninsured. Recognizing that it must do a better job of getting information out to Latino communities, California has launched a new campaign to increase outreach and enrollment resources in Latino communities. If this effort is successful, it will not only increase the number of Latinos with health coverage in California, it will also provide examples of good outreach and education that can be replicated in other communities around the country.   

Now is the time to spread the word

The March 31 enrollment deadline to buy health insurance in the marketplace is fast approaching. We must move quickly to spread the word about the health coverage options that are available and the financial assistance that helps make health insurance affordable. Fortunately, there are now both English and Spanish materials available. 

Health coverage resources now available for Latinos

  • Spanish speakers can visit www.cuidadodesalud.gov (the English version of the site is www.healthcare.gov). These are the federal government’s websites where shoppers can compare the health plan options in their area; fill out the single application for both coverage and financial assistance; choose the best plan for them; and get information to help them shop for and effectively use their health coverage. There’s even a Spanish chat function. In addition, they can find local organizations that are providing in-person assistance to help people enroll, including people who speak Spanish. Call 1-800-318-2596 or TY 855-889-4325 to reach the national 24/7 customer service center. The center includes Spanish-speaking representatives who are available to answer questions and help people sign up for coverage.  
  • Families USA partnered with NAACP, National Council of La Raza, and the National Urban League to create outreach materials (available in English and Spanish) designed specifically for communities of color, as well as for general audiences. 
  • Families USA also offers information, tools and resources for navigators and assisters that can be useful to helpers working on enrollment. 

In addition, there are Latino-focused enrollment events taking place all across the country in March. To find out if there is one near you and get involved, visit http://www.getcoveredamerica.org/national-latino-enrollment-summits/  

If we want to make a dent in Latinos’ disproportionately high rates of uninsurance and take a step closer to achieving health equity, it is important that we, as advocates and educated consumers, do everything in our power to educate and enroll as many of the 10.2 million uninsured and potentially eligible Latinos as possible. 

This blog was written with the assistance of Sinsi Hernandez-Cancio and Lizette Rivera.

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