Deadline to Get Affordable Care in Monday, March 31
The deadline to sign up for the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act is March 31 but it is likely several million Californians will still have no health coverage on April 1, according to a report by the Californian Healthcare Foundation and experts who spoke at a regional conference of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists in San Francisco.
The Affordable Care Act, or ACA, or Obamacare was signed into law four years ago. The goal is to make affordable healthcare available to the 48-million Americans without coverage.
“There are seven or eight million uninsured Californians,” said Marian Mulkey, director of Health Reform and Public Programs Initiatives for the California Healthcare Foundation.
“Even if everything goes well several million Californians will still be without health insurance.”
In California, Latinos represent 41% of the general population, but account for 57% of the uninsured population, according to the healthcare foundation. African Americans make up 6% of the population and 5% of the uninsured. There are several reasons why.
The problems with the website created for the ACA rollout in Washington were also felt in California. In addition, once the website problems were fixed many people would not use it.
“Our research shows 28% would rather use family and friends and 23% would rather call,” according to Erica Pham, counsel for Government Relations with Kaiser Permanente.
“It’s not easy for them. They may not have held health insurance before. They don’t understand premiums, subsidies, etc.”
The deadline to sign up is March 31 but those who have started the process by then will still be able to get coverage the same way that people who are in line when a polling place closes during an election are allowed to vote.
Mulkey says that only makes sense because signing up can be very complicated.
“The average person when they walk in they don’t know what they are eligible for. The whole point of the law was that there was something for everyone… unless you were undocumented… and that’s another issue.”
In the Latino community there are problems of language barriers, the technology gap and the reality of living without immigration documents.
“Mixed status families are reluctant to sign up at all if someone in the family is undocumented,” said Angie Blanchette,” regional manager for outreach and media activities in the Bay Area for Covered California.
Significant resources have been dedicated to education and enrollment campaigns in the Latino community. These include holding numerous public events; some featuring United Farm Workers co-founder Dolores Huerta.
Blanchette says that effort seems to be working because Latino enrollment has risen threefold in the past three months.
Enrollment in the African American community could be better but the panelists agree initial education efforts missed the mark. Blanchette said she was disheartened by the enrollment numbers in the Black community and there are now plans to engage churches to increase those numbers but she admits time is running out.
She said enrollment in the Asian community is quite high because there is a tendency to sign up through insurance agents.
The fits and starts of the initial rollout of the Affordable Care Act taught some basic lessons that all agree will make next year’s campaign much more effective.
It is likely the website will work better, the call centers will be staffed with more experienced counselors and the campaign will be able to fine-tune its messaging.
“If you want to reach Black people, the message you are trying to distribute has got to be Black,” said Olis Simmons, president and founder of Youth Uprising, a non-profit organization in Oakland that is training teenagers and young adults to overcome obstacles so they can thrive as successful members of society.
One thing that has not been widely discussed is that Californians who miss the deadline can still get coverage by signing up for Medi-Cal.
“In addition to having its own Marketplace Exchange, California took part in the Medicaid expansion,” said Mulkey of the Healthcare Foundation.
“Medi-Cal has been widened to include more people. So far two million people are newly enrolled and there is an ongoing opportunity to enroll without deadlines. There is an expansive program for benefits at low cost to Dreamers,” or those who came to the United States without documents while they were still children.
Bob Butler is an independent journalist whose radio reports can be heard on KCBS. San Francisco. He is a member of the National Association f Hispanic Journalists and President of the National Association of Black journalists.