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Monday, October 31, 2016

Why Open Enrollment and the 2016 Election Matter: October Health Equity Update

Emmett Ruff

Health Equity Intern

Anyone concerned with advancing health access and quality for all knows there's a lot at stake in November. Between the start of open enrollment in the marketplaces and the elections—when our nation chooses key decision makers at the national, state, and local levels—next month is a critical turning point in the fight for health care justice.

Vote Your Health: Get ready to vote on November 8! Take a look at these 5 questions to ask your candidates, and find out where they stand on critical health care issues.

Health insurance matters to people of color: Open enrollment begins November 1

Open enrollment for 2017 health coverage through the Affordable Care Act marketplaces begins November 1. People who currently have a marketplace health plan should review their coverage options for next year. And those who don’t have health insurance should sign up and take advantage of the financial help available for most people to help pay their monthly premiums.  

Marketplace coverage is an important factor in why we now have the lowest uninsured rate in history, including among racial and ethnic minorities, and it is helping to improve people of color’s access to health care. This year, about 12.7 million got covered through the marketplace, and, of those, 10.5 million qualified for federal financial assistance to help pay for the health plan of their choice.

HHS projects that we will do even better for 2017, estimating that 13.8 million people will sign up before open enrollment ends on January 31.  

Despite our progress, too many people still lack insurance, especially in communities of color. Many don’t know that the marketplaces exist and that that they will likely qualify for financial assistance. This open enrollment period, we need to redouble our efforts to reach out to underserved communities and make sure they understand:

  • their health plan options
  • the financial help that may be available to pay for coverage, and
  • there are people in their communities who are trained to help them sign up.

For tools to assist with outreach and other marketplace enrollment information, check out Families USA’s Enrollment Assister Resource Center.

National Institutes of Health formally recognizes sexual and gender minorities as a health disparity population

In a victory for health equity, the NIH has formally designated sexual and gender minorities as a “health disparity population” that faces inequities in access to care and health outcomes for certain conditions. This designation means that NIH will devote more resources to researching and eliminating the disparities that gender and sexual minorities experience.

In a letter released earlier this month announcing the designation, Eliseo J. Pérez-Stable, Director of NIH’s National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities, noted that sexual and gender minorities include “lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender populations, as well as those whose sexual orientation, gender identity and expressions, or reproductive development varies from traditional, societal, cultural, or physiological norms.”

Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) advocates have worked for years to get the many health disparities this community faces recognized, including improving the collection of data about sexual and gender minorities. This NIH decision will allow for much-needed resources to be directed toward research on sexual and gender minority health.  

California expands the availability of mental health providers in community and rural clinics

On the mental health front, earlier this month, California Gov. Jerry Brown signed a law to allow federally qualified health centers (FQHCs) and rural health clinics (RHCs) in the state to receive Medi-Cal (California’s Medicaid program) funding for services provided by licensed marriage and family therapists.

As a result of this new law, there will be an increase in the availability of mental health services for the nearly 6 million low-income, disproportionately minority patients that these clinics serve.

This bill, which was introduced by Assemblyman Jim Wood and cosponsored by California Primary Care Association and the California Association of Marriage and Family Therapists, was designed to help alleviate the critical shortage of mental health service providers that were allowed to work in these clinics. Previously, Medi-Cal would only reimburse FQHCs and RHCs for services provided by psychologists and social workers, and there were simply not enough of them. Expanding the pool of practitioners will help increase access for patients in need of these services.  

Check out October's Top Health Equity Reads, Events, and Jobs!

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