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Though More Latinos Are Insured, Many Still Unfamiliar With Health Law

Image: Murillo reads a leaflet at a health insurance enrollment event in Cudahy, California

Arminda Murillo reads a leaflet at a health insurance enrollment event in Cudahy, California March 27, 2014. Another chance to buy insurance under President Barack Obama's signature healthcare law known as Obamacare, begins Saturday, Nov. 15. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson (UNITED STATES - Tags: HEALTH POLITICS) LUCY NICHOLSON / Reuters, file

As the Obama administration prepares for another enrollment for mandated health insurance coverage, a large share of Latinos still are in the dark about the Affordable Care Act, a recent survey shows.

About a third of Latinos asked about their familiarity with the act, also known as Obamacare, said they were not at all familiar with it and almost one in five said they were not very familiar with it, in a sweeping survey of Latinos funded by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation and conducted by Latino Decisions.

However, a whopping three-fourths said they already had health insurance, a share that coincides with the estimated 25 percent of Latinos ages 19-64 considered to still be uninsured.

A new round of enrollment for health care coverage through government-operated marketplaces begins Nov. 15. The government expects 9 million people to sign up for coverage, four million fewer than last year. In addition, the coverage plans of some must be renewed, providing an opportunity for many Latinos to consider other plans that may be more appropriate coverage or more affordable.

Under Obamacare, people without health insurance through work were required to purchase insurance by last March. The insurance is purchased through “marketplaces” set up online that offer different coverage plans. Federal help to pay the cost of the insurance is provided for some buyers based on their income levels.

A disastrous rollout of the website complicated enrollments but President Barack Obama has said this time things will go more smoothly. This week, the administration lowered projections of enrollment to 9 million.

For about 34 percent of Latinos during the last enrollment period, personal assistance was needed for signup, compared to 12 percent of non-Latino whites, said Jessica McCarron, a spokeswoman for Enroll America, a Obama-affiliated group that has worked to get people signed up for health care.

Information in Spanish has been helpful. The Spanish-language version of healthcare.gov was launched about two months after the English-language site. There was some criticism of the early site’s Spanish translations as clunky and not explanatory enough in terms that it translated, such as premium and deductibles, words that are not so commonplace for people who don’t have insurance.

Jose Plaza, national director of Latino Engagement for Enroll America, said the outreach group is expanding its literacy campaign to make sure people understand what kind of coverage they have, that financial help is available for those who can't afford the monthly payments and that they can change coverage plans when they renew.

"Really, our campaign is an education campaign," Plaza said. "We have everything from a basic glossary to understanding the difference between a primary care and an ER physician."

Although outreach during last year's Obamacare signup began with canvassing and knocking on doors, it soon shifted to in-person information events held at places where Latino families gravitated to such as schools and churches, Plaza said.

Plaza said Enroll America will start this weekend and hold 12 "summits" through November. The group held 65 summits during last year's enrollment period but expects to do more by the time enrollment for the latest period ends next year.

Steven Lopez, manager of the health policy project for National Council of La Raza, one of the groups that participates in the summits, said while much of what was done for the first enrollment will be repeated, it is being done with more intensity in this latest enrollment round.

"NCLR and our partners are really going to be working diligently to ensure we are reaching out to the community but also deep within it to really target those who for whatever reason didn't get enrolled," Lopez said.

Many Latinos have qualified for Medicaid, a tax-supported, government run health insurance program. But states with high Latino populations such as Texas and Florida, have chosen not to change how much a person must earn to qualify so that more people could be covered.

The enrollment period is Nov. 15 through Feb. 15, 2015. The penalty for not signing up increases next year to 2 percent of income or $325 per adult plus $162.50 per child in a family, whichever is more.