According to Covered California, only 20 percent of the state program’s enrollees are Latino.
Larry Levitt, senior vice president of the nonprofit Kaiser Family Foundation, was quoted Wednesday in the Los Angeles Times as saying failure to reach eligible Latinos in large numbers –nearly 50 percent of the state’s population is Latino – will make it hard for California to reach its overall enrollment goal.
While Covered California has been hailed nationally for its “efficient” roll-out of Obamacare, the Affordable Care Act, especially as it pertains to the state run website for the program, the so-called success has failed to translate to enrollments among Latinos.
In California and nationally, the financial success of the program is tied to getting younger, healthier, uninsured individuals to participate in the program. It is assumed they will pay premiums, but use their insurance less frequently, allowing more funds to go toward the care of older or sicker participants.
As a group, Latinos tend to be younger than non-Latinos, so large number of enrollees would be a plus for the healthcare program.
But why does the small enrollment numbers among Latinos come as a surprise?
Though the largest target market, attention to Latinos has been lagging behind efforts directed at other groups.
There are problems with the Spanish language section of the Covered California website and the application in Spanish; outreach has relied heavily on word of mouth, neighbors telling neighbors and the goodwill of elected officials and community groups to explain the complicated coverage packages to Latinos and get them to sign up.
Many of those that qualify for subsidies have little or no experience with insurance based healthcare, so it’s not unreasonable that they would be wary of signing on.
Trust is a necessary but difficult ingredient to instill in Latinos and unless a greater effort is made by Covered California to adapt its traditional, general market strategies and reliance on volunteers, Latinos will continue to avoid coverage.
So it only makes sense that the best outreach will come from using the trusted information vehicles this community usually goes to for information, in English or Spanish. Outreach needs to be multi-generational, with older Latinos-mom, dad and grandma-sharing information with the younger members in their household and visa versa.
One of the most recognized ways to reach Latinos is through the numerous community newspapers they read in English and/or Spanish, but a vehicle completely ignored in Covered California’s marketing plans.
The Latino press has helped disseminate information from the large number of press releases received, including free workshops, but the outreach by Covered California has been sporadic at best. The Latino community deserves information that is detailed and easy to digest in the language these communities favor.
Public utilities and bankers have found that inserts in their mail to these communities are usually ineffective and often ignored. Why? Because readers are unaccustomed to information presented in that way. Covered California should take a lesson from these groups.
Yes, enrollment systems will be fixed and personnel better trained, but getting Latinos to tackle unfamiliar hurdles like online enrollment could mean they are denied the opportunity to get affordable health care and Covered California will bare much of the blame.
Unless a majority of the 1.2 million people eligible to enroll do, it’s hard to see how Covered California will reach the number of healthy young adults needed to make the program a success.
And unless the state finds a way to enroll the large number of people ineligible due to their immigration status, the state may have to pony up some of its valuable reserves to support Covered California, and the large number of uninsured who will continue to use emergency rooms as their primary care provider.