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Has Calif. done enough to get Latinos signed up for health coverage?

Has Calif. done enough to get Latinos signed up for health coverage?

Picture of Gerardo Fernandez Moreno

Nearly 4 million Californians lack health insurance coverage, the highest number in the United States and one of the highest percentages nationwide. And almost three out of five uninsured residents are Latino or Hispanic.

These statistics, compiled by the California Health Care Foundation (CHCF), are still a reality two years after Covered California has offered federal assistance to state residents under the Affordable Care Act, despite $90 million spent promoting and campaigning around the state — and despite reports that Latinos now make up a majority of the 1.3 million enrolled under the program, accounting for 37 percent.

There are three main areas that I will examine for my 2016 California Fellowship: The over- or under-coverage of Hispanics in Covered California, the administrative and enrollment problems faced by the program, and how enrollment has affected farmworkers in the Salinas Valley region.

I will examine why some say many Hispanics, now the majority in the state, have been left out of the program, and if the numerous and expensive outreach efforts are still falling short. Some of these efforts have included tours around the state by Peter Lee, Covered California’s executive director.

Some of these outreach efforts have paid considerable dividends. The Sacramento Bee has reported that California is among the states that recorded the biggest drop in uninsured residents from 2013 to 2014. There are clear signs of improvement, but “there’s still more to be done,” as Lee commented after the U.S. Census Bureau released new data in the fall of 2015.

Still, almost 60 percent of uninsured Californians are Latinos, many of which do not qualify for Covered California or Medi-Cal because of their undocumented immigrant status. At least until May of 2016 when undocumented individuals under the age of 19 enrolled into a Medi-Cal extension under SB 4.

There are many impediments that have traditionally kept a large percentage of the Latino population under national averages, including the lowest rate of college graduates (12 percent), and high unemployment rates. When it comes to obtaining health insurance, Latinos are once again at the bottom.

According to reports, the two main reasons preventing Latinos from enrolling in health insurance programs are affordability and immigration fears.

It hasn’t helped that the enrollment program has been complicated, with a website that was often overwhelmed and call centers that offered inadequate assistance. Some users reported being dropped from the program and enrolled into Medi-Cal without their consent, and other users have reported confusion about their monthly premiums that resulted in the loss of coverage.

Covered California helps residents enter the private health insurance marketplace and provides “federal premium assistance” to make it affordable. But the Affordable Care Act also includes a tax penalty for those who don’t have insurance. In 2016, a person who makes close to $40,000 per year will have a “shared responsibility payment” of $695.

In addition, many employers themselves feared that the program would force them to offer insurance or pay large penalty fees. My reporting will focus especially on the farmlands of the Salinas Valley, where three quarters of the population is Latino, and I’ll explore how the community is being impacted by the program.

[Photo by Neon Tommy via Flickr.]

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