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Thursday, February 5, 2015

White House Makes Push to Enroll Asian American and Pacific Islanders in Health Insurance

Akshaya Kannan

Health Equity Intern

With the February 15 deadline for the second open enrollment period quickly approaching, local and national groups across the country have been intensifying their efforts to get the word out through various channels. Last week, the White House, White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPI), HHS, and community partners held a very successful Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) Affordable Care Act Enrollment Week of Action. Along with similar weeks of action targeting other specific communities (including women, Latinos, African Americans, LGBTQ consumers, and youth) these activities aimed to add even more people to the more than 9.5 million consumers already enrolled.

In addition to a host of workshops and enrollment events in AAPI communities across the nation, the AAPI Week of Action featured a community conference call with White House Director of Public Liaison Tina Tchen and U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy, and an engaging Twitter storm. This social media event, held last Thursday, was hosted by HHS, White House AAPI, and the Action for Health Justice partners led by the Asian Pacific Islander Health Forum (APIAHF) and the Association of Asian Pacific Community Health Organizations (AAPCHO). It produced more than 12 million impressions. More than 90 unique tweeters, including health equity advocacy groups (e.g., Coalition for Asian American Children and Families, National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum, and Asian Americans Advancing Justice) and celebrities like Mindy Kaling, Kal Penn, and George Takei generated more than a thousand tweets, sharing consumer stories, resources, and infographics describing AAPI health disparities.

AAPI communities have a lot to gain by enrolling in health coverage, considering that they are more likely to suffer from certain health conditions than non-Hispanic Whites. They experience health disparities like these: they are 80 percent more likely to die of liver cancer, 60 percent more likely to have end-stage renal disease, and 4.5 times more likely to suffer from Hepatitis B compared to non-Hispanic whites. (Learn more about these health disparities.) 

Fortunately, a substantial number of AAPI consumers could qualify for health insurance through the Affordable Care Act. It is estimated that 2 million uninsured AAPIs could get marketplace coverage, and 4 out of 5 AAPIs and Native Hawaiians are eligible for either free or subsidized insurance.  
One significant challenge in enrolling some in the AAPI community is the diversity of languages spoken. In response, the government and numerous local partners across the country have developed useful resources for AAPIs with limited English proficiency. To start with, Healthcare.gov provides live telephone assistance in 150 languages through their 800-318-2596 line. In addition, the White House Initiative on AAPI created YouTube videos explaining the importance of the ACA in languages including Mandarin, Korean, Lao, Khmer, Hmong, and Burmese; and the Center for Medicaid and Medicare Services (CMS) launched resources in Chinese, Vietnamese, and Korean.

Improving the health of AAPI communities requires advancements on multiple fronts, from access to language-accessible and culturally competent providers to promoting community based and clinical prevention services.  But the first important step is increasing AAPI consumers’ access to health insurance. And with the close of open enrollment approaching next week, it is important for the API community to enroll as soon as possible!