While many more California Latinos and African Americans have become insured since the passage of the Affordable Care Act, including through the state’s Medi-Cal expansion and employer-based insurance, Covered California’s experience echoes that of other states trying to ensure their minority populations receiving the health coverage they need,” said Larry Levitt, Senior Vice President at the Kaiser Family Foundation.
About 55 percent of the nation’s remaining 32.3 million uninsured under age 65 are people of color, including 34 percent who identify as Hispanic/Latino and 14 percent who identify as Black, according to Kaiser Family Foundation data.
In California, about 2.2 million Californians remain uninsured but are eligible for Medi-Cal or Covered California insurance plans, stated Peter Lee, Executive Director for California’s health benefit exchange Covered California. They are more likely to be Latino and African American, and younger and slightly more affluent than current enrollees, who may have qualified for subsidies or Medi-Cal, the state’s version of Medicaid. Covered California’s open enrollment runs from Nov. 1 2015 to Jan. 31, 2016.
Covered California has earmarked about $50 million for marketing and another $13 million for navigators, trained counselors who help people learn about and sign up for coverage. The exchange was expected to unveil its new advertising campaign Friday, including ads specifically targeted to Latinos and African Americans.
As part of an article generated by California Black Media (CBM) based in Sacramento on the low enrollment of African Americans and Latinos into the Covered California Health Coverage Plan, which is required by law under the Affordable Health Care Act, I want to commend CBM for keeping this issue before the public because it is important to my community and something I know a lot about. I want to focus on the outreach enrollment portion of the program and offer my experience and thoughts.
The year was 1970 and Kaiser Permanente known then as Kaiser Hospital in Fontana wanted to enroll 500 low-income Black and Latino families into its health plan and thought it would take at least a year to do so. During that time, and this was when Kaiser Fontana had a reputation of not having the best customer service when it came to providing quality medical care to Blacks and Latinos who did have health coverage through employer’s benefit packages, however within a five month period we began an outreach program to attract new Black and Latino members.
Under the leadership of Kaiser’s president, Mr. Jim Vohs, Dr. Raymond Kay Retired Medical Director and Rev. Art Forbes, Administrator of the Comprehensive Health Services Program (CHSP) and myself as the Outreach and Training Director, we hired six community workers that lived in the community and trained them on what to say to potential enrollees as well as educated our targeted population on the benefits for them as new members of Kaiser Healthcare. I also used my affiliation with the Black and Latino media, my membership in the Black church and other community organizations to help spread the word on the credibility of the program. This was important to me because relying on only one avenue to reach our people, would not work.
It was not easy to convince a group of people who have been repeatedly treated badly in the past by an institution that would not hire them to work. I remember Frank Solano one of the original community workers saying to me, “Hardy I never thought Kaiser would hire people like us to work here.” And we found many Latinos who had Kaiser coverage through Kaiser Steel and was treated so bad they went to outside doctors and paid for care when they needed it. We also had language and cultural barriers to health care that needed to be overcome while trying to enroll people and we did.
As people read and heard about what we were doing and what the benefits were in becoming new members, people began signing up so fast it made our heads spin and Kaiser’s leaders could not believe our numbers.
Our success was from the messengers and our instruments of delivering the message and benefits to the people.
In my opinion if Covered California wants to reach and enroll a diverse populous, let me offer that they select credible people to lead, use the Black and Latino owned media to help educate the targeted populations to be enrolled.
It appears as though you have a budget large enough but how you spend it and whom you spend it with will generate the outcome you desire.
Background information was obtained through the Kaiser Health Network an editorially independent program of the Kaiser Foundation.