Reaching out to the uninsured

May 16, 2013 

— Later this year, we'll see what $37 million can do to educate Californians about the federal health care program.

Covered California, the state's health exchange, announced the outreach grant awards this week and will distribute the federal dollars in July to nonprofit groups that will inform the uninsured about Obamacare, working with partners in all 58 counties.

Starting in January, the Affordable Care Act will require individuals and families to have health coverage or pay an income-tax penalty. The challenge in Stanislaus and nearby counties is to reach across language and cultural barriers so that lower-wage workers, young adults and uninsured families understand the law and take advantage of subsidies to get affordable insurance.

Beside those of us living in suburban neighborhoods, valley residents are a mixture of people who work in agriculture, speak different languages, worship in mosques and Sikh Temples and live in rural communities. Many valley residents came from Southeast Asia, the Middle East, India, the Azores, Mexico and other Latin American countries and, depending on how much media they consume, may have limited knowledge of the health care law.

Without a concerted information campaign, without the ability to enroll more than 100,000 people in health plans in this region in the next seven months, the federal law will be little more than a tax increase on the lower middle class.

United Way of Stanislaus will be a key player here, using its workplace campaigns, income tax assistance and 211 call service to tell people about their options. United Way of California was awarded $1 million to do outreach work in 11 counties, including Stanislaus and Merced.

Some other groups that will focus on the Northern San Joaquin Valley, such as the UC Davis Center for Reducing Health Disparities, are not familiar names, but apparently impressed Covered California with proposals for high-tech and "high touch" outreach efforts.

The UC Davis center plans to work with the local community group, El Concilio, to reach out to Latinos in San Joaquin County.

Another grant recipient, Catholic Charities of California, is still working on specifics of its $859,000, 16-county outreach campaign, but said it will have a part-time worker assisting people at its office in Merced. It won't do outreach in Stanislaus and San Joaquin counties, because Catholic Charities of the Stockton Diocese wrote its own grant proposal and was rejected.

Planned Parenthood Mar Monte will get $694,000 to counsel adults age 18 to 35 in Stanislaus, San Joaquin, Merced and 13 other counties. The Golden Valley Health Centers in Stanislaus and Merced Counties will work with a state consortium of federally funded clinics to inform hard-to-reach populations.

It may sound like a lot of money for outreach, but officials expect the federal funding will be stretched too thin to adequately spread the word in a state with 38 million residents. Covered California will have call centers and also will rely on employers and insurance agents during the enrollment period starting in October.

“It’s going to be long process,” said Mary Ann Lee, Stanislaus County's health services director. “It’s going to take time for the community to understand and take advantage of the program.”

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