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As Health Enrollment Deadline Nears, Latinos Urged to Sign Up

From left, Marjorie Mosely, organizer in Cincinnati for Enroll America/Get Covered America and Anne Filipic, president of Enroll America
From left, Marjorie Mosely, organizer in Cincinnati for Enroll America/Get Covered America and Anne Filipic, president of Enroll America

March 31 is days away, but that did not deter Annette Raveneau, of the group Enroll America, from urging Latino families to seek out assistance and sign up for health insurance.

"Please do not miss the deadline, you still have time," she said. At a recent enrollment event in San Antonio, Texas, about 800 families showed up. In an Atlanta, she said some drove over two hours to attend.

Her organization, a non-profit group formed to get as many uninsured Americans as possible to buy health care coverage following the Affordable Care Act, has been conducting bus tours in cities around the country and worked with hundreds of groups at enrollment events.

"We know Latinos prefer to talk to someone in person, many prefer to speak in Spanish, and they want someone who is patient and interested in their well-being - because it can be complicated," said Raveneau.

According to Administration numbers, about 1 in 4 uninsured Americans are Latino, and about 10 million could qualify for coverage through the newly created health insurance marketplaces or Medicaid. Though the federal government has not released a breakdown of enrollment to date, experts have been warning the Latino enrollment numbers are falling short.

In California, 22 percent of the close to 700,000 who enrolled in the Covered California Health Exchange identified as Hispanic, even though Hispanics make up about half of the state's uninsured population. In recent weeks, community organizations have been holding more events trying to reach more families.

Gabriel Sanchez, who directs the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Center for Health Policy at the University of New Mexico, said missteps in the first few months contributed to lower Hispanic enrollment numbers.

"I think the main lesson is you have to do more Hispanic-specific outreach...You have to approach it like a campaign"

"The lack of overall information early on was a huge problem," said Sanchez, pointing out the delay in Spanish-language tools and the website. "It took a while for things to get off the ground."

Recently, though, Sanchez said he has seen an improvement in the Administration's approach. "I think the main lesson is you have to do more Hispanic-specific outreach...The thing that’s interesting to me is that you have to approach it like a campaign," he added.

What has worked best for Hispanics has been direct help from a qualified health navigator or volunteer in the community who understands the process. Raveneau said Latino families still have time, and locators in the website show where families can go for assistance.

"Get on your smart phone, get on the website - please do not miss the deadline," she said. "What we find is so many people might not think they qualify but they do."

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