Rudy Vasquez, the managed-care operations director at the Sea Mar Community Health Centers, said his clinic has been struggling to get information about the Affordable Care Act (ACA) to the most in-need communities.
“The federal, or state government, keeps talking about it being a marathon, we need to look at it like a long-term process,” Vasquez said. “The reality is it’s two actual sprints.”
The ACA went into effect October 1. Users have to enroll before mid-December to qualify for January coverage, or else they will have to wait until February to try again. Missing the next deadline — on March 30 — will incur a penalty fee.
Hispanics are the least likely race or ethnicity to have health insurance — approximately 30 percent according to a U.S. Census Bureau.
“Health care is a priority for us,” said Nora Coronado, commissioner for the Washington State Commission on Hispanic Affairs, which represents the interests of the Hispanic community.
She cited low-paying jobs that don’t provide insurance and documentation status as some reasons for the low insurance rate of Hispanics. In the United States, health care is focused on preventive care, but you only visit the doctor when you’re sick in Mexico.
In 2012, Sea Mar treated 53,000 uninsured patients for medical reasons, excluding health concerns like mental-health or dental care. About 40 percent of their patients are Caucasian, 40 percent Hispanic and 20 percent are mixed race.
“The Affordable Care Act is a great thing…it is having some impact for some of the Hispanic-speaking population,” Vasquez said.
Between Oct. 1 and Nov. 7, more than 77,000 Washington state residents have enrolled in coverage: 9,320 through private plans, and 68,532 through a Medicaid expansion, according to the Seattle Times.
The federal government has handed out funds to health-care centers for increased outreach and enrollment assistance, including more than $600,000 to Sea Mar, Vasquez said. The clinic uses those funds to employ In-Person Assisters (IPA), who go into community churches and libraries to make presentations and enroll people.
Several hurdles could affect the Hispanic community more than others. The website limits the amount of characters users can enter for their last name, so certain users cannot enroll. Vasquez said constantly changing information creates a credibility and trust issue, something important to many in the Hispanic community.
“We have to be very careful, those of us that are working with that population group to make sure we really know what we’re talking about,” Vasquez said.
Vasquez said there is also fear the data collected will be used by the government to potentially crack down on illegal immigrants, therefore causing hesitation by mixed-status family members.
Outreach for affordable care has highlighted a problem Vasquez identifies as one reason minority communities are most likely to be uninsured.
Once the most accessible members of the community have been contacted, outreach staff has to be pulled in to handle the high volume of demand, severing communication lines. This makes it more challenging to contact the most difficult to reach members.
“How do you create a process or a system that keeps a running dialogue engaged within that community, so there’s always information going in and out?” Vasquez said. “I haven’t figured that one out yet.”