Still don’t have healthcare coverage? Experts say too many Black Californians are headed for a taxing situation.
As Covered California unveils data showing more focused efforts to enroll African-Americans in affordable health coverage through the state exchange, a substantial percentage of Black Californians are still risking hefty fines for failure to sign up by next month’s fast-approaching deadline.
With Covered California’s second enrollment period well underway, a set of official statistics made public Jan. 15 reveal that African-Americans represent three percent of those who have selected a health insurance plan through the state exchange since enrollment reopened last November.
State health care officials touted the numbers, saying the findings show that Covered California’s focused outreach to ethnic communities is working. “The new data shows that the efforts to focus more outreach in these communities are finding many Californians who still want and need coverage,” Department of Health Care Services Director Toby Douglas said in a statement. “We’re very pleased with the success so far.”
Covered California Executive Director Peter V. Lee said the state’s Obama care marketplace has been successful in attracting African-Americans.
In a Jan. 15 press release, the organization said it has increased its share of paid advertising aimed at African-Americans from seven percent in 2013-2014 to 9.9 percent in 2015, including television, radio and print advertising in Black newspapers. Covered California has also worked with Black churches and other community groups to promote enrollment. Deeper inside the numbers, officials found further causes for optimism: Blacks made up nine percent of the more than 466,000 who enrolled in Medi-Cal from the start of the open enrollment period until Dec. 31, the latest period that official demographic data is available.
“One of our lessons learned last year is that partnerships matter and are transformative,” he said. “We are very pleased to see that some of our new marketing and outreach efforts are showing signs of success.”
Still, there are signs that more and stronger efforts are needed, and observers have cautioned against declaring success too quickly. Although Covered California was quick to blanket social media with triumphant messages of increased Black enrollment, African-Americans across the state still comprise six percent of those who have begun the enrollment process but not yet completed it.
If they — and tens of thousands of others who have yet to even initiate the enrollment process — go without health insurance beyond Feb. 15, they face Internal Revenue Service penalties that could exceed $300 during next year’s tax season. At just three percent of the 228,776 residents who accessed affordable health care through Covered California during the current enrollment period, African-Americans lag far behind Whites (38 percent), Latinos (28 percent) and Asians (19 percent).
In effect, this means Black communities are poised to be among the hardest hit by these penalties. People that went without health insurance for more than three months in 2014 will be fined $95 or one percent of the yearly income for a person — whichever is larger. People that go without insurance after the new Feb. 15 deadline could be fined two percent of their income or $325 — whichever is larger. Two years from now, the fee will be 2.5 percent of consumers’ income or $695 per person; whichever is larger.
“We have seen some estimates that as many as a million may be subject to a penalty,” Lee said. “But the important thing about this penalty is that there are multiple reasons to be exempt from this penalty. We are trying to get the word out that this is the sort of thing you need to work with your tax [preparer] on.” On the other hand, all who complete the enrollment process by Feb. 15 will have health coverage beginning March 1.
“The job now,” said Lee, “is to get [people] across the finish line. Having health care coverage is good for your family, good for your peace of mind, good for your financial bottom line. But also it is the right thing to do on so many other levels.”