With just two weeks left to sign up for health insurance through the Affordable Care Act, the agency responsible for enrolling Californians has called on a well know civil and labor rights activist to help them get the word out to Latinos who have been slower to sign up.
At health care provider AltaMed’s headquarters in East Los Angeles last Friday, Covered California announced it has enlisted the aid of Dolores Huerta, co-founder of the United Farm Workers (UFW) and proponent of various civil rights causes to help motivate Latinos to sign up for health insurance before the March 31 deadline.
Covered California is stepping up efforts to reach out to Latinos after being criticized for doing a poor job of getting Latinos to sign up, and for being slow to produce outreach materials and website content in Spanish.
As of January 31, an estimated 120,000 Latinos had enrolled in Obamacare, according to Covered California’s most recent numbers. But that number falls far below those estimated to be eligible for free or subsidized coverage.
“Out of about 877,000 eligible for Medi-Cal, 30% (263,100) are Latinos,” Covered California Information Officer Larry Hicks told EGP via phone. “We think the number may be higher, but only those who identified themselves as Latinos were counted,” he said.
Huerta said Friday that it is very important for Latinos to know about the benefits that the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, provides.
Responding to criticism that coverage through Covered California – the state’s health care exchange – is too expensive, Huerta told EGP that the cost of not having insurance could be even higher.
“Whatever monthly payment you have to make is not as expensive as if one of your family members get sick or has an accident,” Huerta said “That’s why you have health insurance, in case of these emergencies.”
Huerta and Covered California will promote the health coverage exchange through a series of events being billed as “Days of Actions” leading up to the March 31 deadline that happens to coincide with the state’s day to commemorate labor leader and UFW co-founder Cesar Chavez.
The importance of having health care insurance is a message that hits close to home for the Herrera family of Pico Rivera.
Maria Dolores Herrera told EGP that her family’s finances took a big hit when her husband, Raymundo suffered a heart attack and intestinal bleeding, forcing a five day stay in the hospital.
“Every time we go [to the doctor or hospital], everything is more expensive. His retirement is not increasing, but the medicine is higher, consults are higher, staying at the hospital is higher,” Mrs. Herrera told EGP, as she waited Friday with her husband and son to speak with an enrollment counselor at the AltaMed Insurance Resource Center, located on Whittier Boulevard across the street from where the press conference was held.
The family said the first time Mr. Herrera went to the hospital the daily rate was $125, but the last time he was hospitalized it had gone up to $250 a day, an amount they found hard to pay.
Medi-Cal did pay for some of his medicine and hospital stay, but it was “not enough,” said Mr. Herrera. “The hospital told us to enroll [in Obamacare],” he said.
Not everyone, however, can get coverage through the health exchange. Those in the country illegally are ineligible for health insurance under Obamacare.
But according to AltaMed CEO Castulo de la Rocha, being undocumented does not mean you have to do without health care.
“Part of our mission for the last four decades at AltaMed is to provide services to people regardless of their ability to pay and their legal status in the U.S.,” de la Rocha told EGP.
“It doesn’t matter if you are here legally or not, we will work with you either through Covered California or Medi-Cal,” he added.
Covered California Executive Director Peter V. Lee told EGP that while the Affordable Care Act does not offer coverage to people without legal status, they still benefit because Obamacare “provides more financial support to community clinics like AltaMed.”
“There are many families with mixed status [documented and undocumented] who can get access through covered California for Medi-Cal” for some members, he said. Lee emphasized that enrollment information is used for “one purpose only, health insurance.” It will not be shared with immigration agencies such as Homeland Security, he said.
Latinos are about 39% of California’s population, according to the Pew Research Center. To be financially viable, Obamacare must enroll healthy, young people, and in California, that means Latinos.
“We have to help our community because if Latinos do not enroll this is not going to work,” said Huerta. “Let’s make sure your family is protected and you are covered,” she added.
Coverage for those who enroll by March 15 starts April 1, and May 1 for those who wait for the March 31 deadline. Those who miss the March 31 deadline will have to wait until the end of the year to enroll for coverage in 2015.