State tries to increase Latino signups for Affordable Care Act

2014-03-03T00:00:00Z State tries to increase Latino signups for Affordable Care ActBy Joseph Trevino Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star

Eligible uninsured people have about five weeks to sign up for the health- care marketplace, but so far Latinos are a no show.

Arizona is among the five top states where the Affordable Care Act is struggling to reach Latinos. Experts blame a faulty bilingual website that took months to get running and perhaps more glaringly, a mostly youthful Hispanic population that sees little need for health care.

By contrast, the mainstream population of Arizona is doing well when it comes to signing up, with about 44,000 choosing something from the marketplace and about 100,000 opting for Medicaid in January, said Dr. Daniel Derksen, director of the University of Arizona’s Center for Rural Health.

While Arizona’s mainstream population eligible for the new insurance program or Medicaid is almost on target, Latinos are another matter, Derksen said. There are no reports of how many Latinos in Arizona have yet to sign up, he said.

Out of Arizona’s 6.5 million inhabitants, 367,000 Latinos in Arizona are uninsured and eligible for coverage, said Derksen, who has studied the Latino community extensively. The state has the fifth-highest number of eligible uninsured Hispanics in the nation, he added. About 220,000 of them live in Phoenix.

“We have different challenges, because we are so far away from Washington and legislators,” Derksen said. “The good news is that the health insurance premiums in both Phoenix and Tucson are some of the least expensive in the country. The bad news is that enrollment has been slower for Latinos in the marketplace.”

This is not only an issue for Latinos, but also for Obamacare, said Lisa Urias, president of Urias Communications, a Phoenix-based marketing group. Young Latinos were expected to be key components in the president’s health care program, she said.

The young population ranging from 25-36 are known as “invincibles.”

“How are you going to reach the invincible Hispanics?” Urias asked. “The way the model is set up, the only way it will succeed is if you get these young people.”

According to an early February report from the Department of Health and Human Services, 1 in 4 persons who lack insurance nationwide are Latino or about 10.2 million out of 41.3 million. Most live in California, Texas and Florida, while half are between the ages of 18 and 35.

Despite the uphill toil, Derksen and most of the local health care providers who have the job of promoting the Affordable Care Act are upbeat about registering Southern Arizona’s eligible Latino population. The challenge is enormous, but they said they’re up to the task.

The Health’s Department Spanish website — www.cuidadodesalud.gov — is now up to speed, and a full-fledged marketing campaign has just begun, Derksen said. He is optimistic that Latinos will enroll.

In Tucson, just in time for insurance enrollment last year, El Rio Community Health Centers hired at least 18 bilingual “navigators” — workers who assist the eligible choose a health provider.

In October, José Manuel Martínez, 53, a hearty construction worker who never had a health-care provider before, was one of the first to enroll at El Rio’s El Pueblo Health Center at West Irvington and Sixth Avenue with the help of Jennifer Vindiola, a navigator. He said he enrolled to adhere to the new health law and to be prepared for any outcome.

“There’s a need,” he said.

Contact Joseph Treviño at jtrevino@azstarnet.com or 807-8029.

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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