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Language Remains 'Top Challenge' to Asian American Enrollment

 / Updated 

“Language access was and remains a top challenge to educating and enrolling Asian Americans about their health care obligations and options under the Affordable Care Act,” said Jeff Caballero, executive director of the Association of Asian Pacific Community Health Organizations, an Action for Health Justice partner organization.

Caballero's group was one of 70 community-based organizations across 22 states that partnered with Action for Health Justice (AHJ) during the first enrollment period last year. They sought to reach low-income immigrants with limited English proficiency, often missed by mainstream efforts, and enrolled over 600,000 Asian Americans (AA), Native Hawaiians, and Pacific Islanders (NHPI) in 41 languages. Still, says Caballero, there is much more work to be done before the next open enrollment period, beginning November 15th.

“With the federal online application and website available only in English and Spanish," he said, "Asian Americans had to rely on organizations like our own and others to walk them though the complicated enrollment process.”

Some of the lessons learned included the importance of linguistically and culturally appropriate materials, building partnerships with small businesses and ethnic media, engaging people in their communities to build trust, being sensitive to immigration-related concerns especially for families with mixed immigration statuses, and the importance of simply walking people through the application process one at a time.

“We have shown that reaching the hardest-to-reach AA and NHPI communities is possible though concerted and dedicated efforts from assistors across the country,” said Doreena Wong, project director for Asian Americans Advancing Justice | Los Angeles, an Action for Health Justice partner organization. “Yet, even with these efforts, there is still a gap between needs and resources and that’s where state and federal authorities need to step in.”

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