By Victoria Whatley
While enrollment in the Affordable Care Act (ACA) has reached more than four million people, it is lagging in the Latino community. In California, officials prepared for as many as 46 percent of the enrollees to be Latinos, but so far, only 19 percent have signed up. Across the country, only one out of three eligible Latinos has enrolled.
(Read the Spanish version of this column here.)
The Church Benefits Board (CBB), a ministry of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship and provides benefits to CBF partner churchese, staff and constituents, identified this problem and wanted to provide immediate assistance to CBF Global Missions Latino Ministries to educate and help our Latino congregations navigate the new healthcare reform. CBB developed an ACA seminar in Spanish, which explained the benefits and provided details as to how and when to enroll. With Ruben Ortiz, pastor of Primera Iglesia Bautista de Deltona in Deltona, Fla.; Ray Johnson coordinator of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of Florida; and CBF Field Personnel Ben Newell in Texas, who is working with Baptist University of the Americas, Emanuel Baptist Church and Valley Association de Rio Grande, we developed the Spanish seminar.
As we took our ACA Spanish seminar on the road, we were able to interact with Latino congregations in Central Florida and South Texas, and hear their heartbreaking stories. I met Lucia, a young mother from El Salvador, whose daughter is a U.S. citizen. Lucia desperately needs insurance for her infant.
With so much misinformation, she was too afraid to investigate the different options that would benefit her child, and she didn’t know that she could apply for the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) through the Healthcare Marketplace.
In another church, we met Mr. Ruiz, 48, who works as a mechanic and cares for his son, who suffers from depression. He didn’t know that the law allowed parents to provide insurance coverage for their children up until age 26. Additionally, he was relieved to find out that insurance couldn’t deny coverage due to pre-existing conditions. Because he was worried about the cost of coverage we discussed the possibility that he would be eligible for tax subsidies and out-of-pocket assistance.
Another elderly couple, Mr. and Mrs. Suarez, stayed behind to thank me for the seminar. They didn’t apply for healthcare because they didn’t know how to use a computer, and when they called, the waiting time was over 60 minutes. He said, “Who has time to wait for 60 minutes, we have to work.”
After the seminar, I followed up with them and learned that they enrolled through the local representative near by their home.
These are just a few of many stories we encountered while on the road.
After conducting these successful seminars in Texas and Florida, many families were able to enroll in the Healthcare Marketplace and obtained government credits to reduce their health insurance premiums. We also spoke with many Latino families who were misinformed about the new healthcare law and feared registering.
We learned about their concerns, which included:
- Latinos would rather put a face to the application process. They need to be able to ask questions in person, because in their culture, it is important to meet with people face to face.
- Many are accustomed to not having medical insurance. If sick, they simply go to the emergency room or use a charitable clinic.
- They don’t know if they can afford coverage or if is worth their time, so they don’t bother to get it.
- Many Latinos are unaware or confused about who is eligible; in states with elected officials vocally opposed to the ACA, there is a shortage of bilingual assistance and a lot of misleading information about the law
- They are skeptical of the government Cuidado de la Salud web site, because it had problems with translation in Spanish and it was not operational until December. Applicants still can’t browse their plan options in Spanish.
In general, Latinos receive much misinformation which makes it difficult for them to understand and value the new healthcare reform. With these seminars and information pieces we are developing, our objective is to provide help to the Latino community to better understand the law and access the help that is available. I feel incredibly blessed to work on this project and appreciate being supported by organizations like CBB and CBF.
With less than four weeks to go in the open enrollment period for 2014, it is important that we continue to educate Latino congregations and spread accurate information about the Affordable Care Act. If you are interested in hosting a Spanish or English ACA seminar at your church or would like to have access to the Spanish presentation, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 770-220-1638.