Paradox: Latinos like Obamacare, but enrollment lags

A USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times Poll last month noted that California’s Latinos overwhelmingly favor Obamacare Not surprising news. 

Since the passage of the act, experts have identified Latinos—who make up the majority of the state’s uninsured residents — as the population with the most to gain.

Looking at it from the other end, the enrollment of Latinos is the bulls-eye for the new state insurance exchange, Covered California. If it convinces Latinos to sign up, it has largely won the game.

So what’s interesting here is a strange disconnect. That same poll shows that 50 percent of Latinos say they don’t know enough about the law. Despite the fact that everyone knows Covered California must reach this population, it appears that Covered California’s outreach efforts are not getting through.

“I see it every day,” says Santiago Lucero, spokesperson for Covered California. “It’s a reality that we need to fight, every day, to let them know that Covered California is the insurance marketplace.”

Lucero said translation from English to Spanish can be awkward, sometimes difficult.

“What is a subsidy – a word that they don’t know,” he said. “It’s an education process. I speak in a very simple language, like I was speaking to my mom.”

Last month, the exchange rolled out a new initiative targeting the Spanish-speaking population. “We launched a billboard campaign in Spanish in the Bay Area,” Lucero said. “We have some billboards in Spanish in LA. We are partnering with the California Endowment to target the Latino community on Univision, Telemundo, La Opinion.”

Covered California is also using social media.

“It’s big among Latinos,” said Lucero. “If you go to east LA, you see that every single person there has a smartphone. We can tell that they access Covered California through Facebook.”

Will it be enough to engage the state’s Latinos in the enrollment process?

“The biggest hurdle for Spanish-speaking Latinos is awareness,” said Hilda Martinez,  who manages California Endowment’s “Get Covered” (“Asegurate”) campaign. The Endowment, a $3 billion foundation whose self-described mission is “to expand access to affordable, quality health care for underserved individuals and communities,” has been pouring money into outreach on behalf of the health exchange.

“ ‘Get covered’ was launched in June to create awareness among Spanish speakers – what is it, how they benefit and where to go to get enrolled,” she said.

But it hasn’t been easy.

“We thought there would be more awareness about it, but for many Latinos, healthcare is not a priority,” said Martinez. “They don’t know much about preventive services. They’re not going to get wellness checkups or cancer screenings.”

The campaign was forced to recalibrate, she said. “We had to take some steps back – well, what is Obamacare, what is healthcare? And, you have to comply.”

If Cal Endow’s campaign doesn’t succeed, that’s not going to be good for Latino health and it won’t be good for the law’s implementation. California’s Latino population is much younger than the state’s overall. According to Pew Research, the median age of Latinos in CA is 27; of whites, 44. 

And younger, in insurance computations, means healthier.

Insurance works by spreading risk.  If people with pre-existing conditions can no longer be excluded from coverage – and in fact may be rushing to coverage – then the Covered California insurance pool has to contain a healthy number of healthy individuals. Otherwise, the insurance companies are going to end up charging ever higher premiums to cover the costs of providing for all the unhealthy people who have anxiously, enthusiastically, signed up.

So the challenge remains familiar, but can it be met?

Stay tuned.

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