By Suzanne Bates
While the state’s health exchange is on its way to meeting its initial goal, at this point there is no way of knowing how many of the 86,000 enrollees are Latinos, but outreach efforts to the Latino community continue and exchange staff say they hope to have demographic information soon.
There is optimism among Latino activists, who say the Affordable Care Act and the state’s health exchange have the potential to help uninsured state residents get coverage. Access Health CT has contracted with several Latino non-profits agencies throughout the state to assist with outreach and enrollment efforts, and those on the ground are mostly positive about how things are going.
Yvette Bello is the executive director of Latino Community Services in Hartford. Her organization was one of many non-profits that received a grant from the state to help residents with healthcare enrollments.
LCS has a grant at the “assister” level – meaning staff work at the ground level, meeting with potential enrollees to help them sign up for a private insurance policy or to get signed up as a Medicaid recipient.
Statewide, of the 86,0000 enrollees in the exchange, just under half – 48 percent – are new Medicaid recipients, while the other 52 percent signed up for one of the available private insurance policies.
Bello said she is optimistic that the ACA can make a difference for the uninsured.
“It means a lot to populations who are stuck in the middle. They’re not state employees, their employers don’t have fantastic insurance…” she said. “Access doesn’t create healthier people, they are just invited into the club.
The average age of enrollees in the private plans is 44, which shows Access Health needs to continue to step up outreach to young people, which may be why they are working so hard to reach Latino populations.
“We’re young. We start our families young. We tend to have a lot of children,” said Bello. “We want more young people in the system so it floats the cost. Connecticut is small enough that the age of applicants is going to be a factor in the success of the exchange.”
Access Health CT is tracking some demographic information on enrollees, but the number of Latino enrollees is not available, nor is the number of enrollments by city or town, said Kathleen Tallarita, a spokesperson for the exchange. She was unsure when other demographic information would be available.
Andrea Ravitz heads up outreach efforts to the Latino community for Access Health CT, and she said the state continues to try to educate the Latino population about the exchange and to move them toward taking action.
In the midst of the state’s public relations push, they had to deal with the flawed rollout of the federal website and health exchange. Ravitz said people were confused initially, but that confusion appears to have subsided.
She said the focus of the substantial outreach effort has been on face to face assistance and communication, and reaching out to the Latino community through Latino news outlets and by setting up information booths at community festivals and street fairs.
Access Health CT has much of its information in Spanish, including a checklist that details what documents and information enrollees need to have to sign up, but the application itself is still only in English.
Hispanic Health Council employee Ida Colon is a navigator for Access Health CT, which means she oversees 300 assisters in 22 cities in Greater Hartford.
She said many people come in to the Hispanic Health Council asking for help with signing up through the exchange. Or if consumers come in looking for other services, council staff are trained to ask them if they have insurance and whether they would like to sign up.
Most potential enrollees have seen an ad about the exchange and call or come in looking for information, Colon said.
She said she gets around 50 calls a day from people looking for information. She helps them sign up or arranges for them to meet with an assister, whether at an enrollment fair or in the agency. Last week during a four-hour-long enrollment fair, 49 people came in looking for help.
Colon said it is time consuming to walk people through the application. It takes one to two hours per individual to get them signed up, she said.
She said it would help if the application and more of the product information on the individual insurance plans were in Spanish, then people who are not comfortable in English could do more on their own.
Colon said she gets calls from undocumented individuals as well, who are not eligible to sign up through the exchange.
The next challenge, she said, is explaining the different insurance policies to clients. Sometimes they are upset by the cost of the plans, she said.
“Not everything is free,” she said, “but often the cost of healthcare through their employers is higher.”