Monday, March 24, 2014

Race to Enroll Pennsylvania Latinos as Obamacare Deadline Looms

Tom Joseph, Public News Service-PA
HARRISBURG, Pa. - With a major deadline looming for all Pennsylvanians to have health-care coverage or face possible penalties, the race is on to enroll the uninsured, with a special focus on the Latino population. Waleska Maldonado, senior vice president of health for Philadelphia-based Congreso, a group aiming to strengthen Latino communities, said efforts to bring Latinos into the fold of the health care exchange have been paying off in the final stretch.

"During the last two weeks we have been able to enroll more than a hundred people. We have 120 people that are on our list of appointments between now and next week," she said. "One of the things that we are seeing is that we're having many people that are just walking in, really trying to meet this deadline of the 31st."

According to U.S. Census data, 63 percent of America's Hispanic population is native-born and English-dominant, and the longer people reside in the U.S., the more likely they are to have health insurance. Nationally the proportion of the population without insurance is around 16 percent, but among Latinos the rate is twice that, or almost one in three.

Historically, one of the biggest barriers Hispanics have faced in getting coverage is financial, but Mayra Alvarez, associate director of the Office of Minority Health at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, said most of those eligible for Obamacare can get tax credits to help reduce the cost of monthly premiums.

"We estimate that the majority of folks will pay less than $100 for coverage. A hundred dollars for the security, the peace of mind that health insurance extends is a tremendous opportunity to ensure that people have the coverage that they need and have it at a price they can afford," she said.

Waleska Maldonado said gauging whether the Affordable Care Act is working well for Latinos longer term can be done in a couple of different ways.

This can be by "looking at whether or not there's been a decrease in the number of people that are going to the emergency room for primary care because that's what was happening, but also people that are now assessing primary care and educating themselves on managing chronic disease."

The deadline to enroll in a marketplace plan for this year is one week from today, March 31. Those who do not have health coverage could face possible penalties.

Individuals may be exempted from the requirement to buy insurance if they file a form and qualify (for example, if their previous plan was terminated and no affordable alternative plan is available). If they think insurance is unaffordable based on their projected income, they may be allowed to buy a policy for catastrophic coverage only. Information about exemptions is available atwww.healthcare.gov/exemptions/.

Enrollment is available by calling 800-318-2596 or visiting www.HealthCare.gov (English) or www.CuidadoDeSalud.gov (Spanish).

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