Covered California makes push for Latino enrollment in San Joaquin Valley

03/17/2014 8:21 PM

03/17/2014 11:29 PM

Latino consumers are the focus as Covered California steps up enrollment activity in the San Joaquin Valley.

Peter Lee, director of the state health exchange, was joined by civil rights activist Dolores Huerta at an enrollment event Monday in Stockton. The Latino community group El Concilio hosted Lee and the United Farm Workers co-founder at its Stockton office.

Lee said events with trusted local groups are effective in making inroads with Latinos, who represent about 22 percent of Covered California’s enrollment statewide. “We have worked with hundreds of groups across the state, and we are going to continue to do that,” Lee said.

Of the 2.6 million Californians believed to be eligible for subsidized coverage under the federal health law, almost half are Latinos, the exchange said.

From October through February, an estimated 64,200 residents in the nine-county San Joaquin Valley signed up for health insurance under the Affordable Care Act. Of those, 92 percent were deemed eligible for tax credits to lower the premiums.

Covered California reported that its enrollments statewide had topped the 1 million mark as of Friday.

The inaugural enrollment period for the Affordable Care Act runs through March 31. The federal government will assess tax penalties to those who remain uninsured after the deadline.

The exchange is collaborating with local partners to create face-to-face opportunities for Latino consumers to review health plans offering various levels of coverage for doctor visits, hospital services and prescription drugs. The bronze, silver, gold and platinum plans cover 60 percent to 90 percent of medical costs.

With the help of Huerta, radio spots and Spanish-language videos on YouTube are encouraging Latinos to sign up.

The severe drought, which threatens to eliminate thousands of jobs in the Valley, could make it harder to enroll agricultural workers who don’t know if they’ll have paychecks later this year. In an interview, Lee said health coverage is a harder sell among families with tight budgets. He said the Medi-Cal program is an option for households with very low incomes.

Since the income eligibility was expanded in October, about 22,000 individuals have enrolled in Medi-Cal in Stanislaus County. That has boosted the county’s Medi-Cal caseload to about 167,000. The program’s income thresholds are about $15,800 annually for individuals and $32,500 for a family of four.

The county’s Medi-Cal enrollment surge “has been more than we had expected,” said Kristie Santos, an assistant director with the Community Services Agency. “All of the counties have been taken off guard by the number of folks who have signed up for Medi-Cal.”

The Medi-Cal sign-ups continue beyond March 31, which is only the deadline for the insurance marketplace under the Affordable Care Act. Lee said he worries that many consumers will wait until the last minute to contact Covered California.

“If everyone waits until the 31st, they will not get through. There is no system that can be built big enough to handle the volume if everyone waits to the last minute,” Lee said.

El Concilio, at 1314 H St. in Modesto, offers enrollment help and plans to hold several events before March 31. Call (209) 523-2860. The public is invited to a free enrollment fair planned by the SEIU-United Healthcare West from 5 to 8 p.m. today at the IBEW Hall, 519 12th St., Modesto.

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