(In CA, several hundred thousand residents have enrolled under the new health insurance law. AP Photo/Ben Margot)

Explaining health care law to mixed-status families, young people

In Kern County, California, the Community Health Initiative aims to educate Latinos on the new health care exchanges by partnering with various family resource centers where community members are already seeking help. The organization trains Certified Enrollment Counselors to help families through the application process by explaining their options and gathering required documentation. They also hope to address any confusion regarding the new law and prepare for any possible scams.

“There are always people who seek to take advantage of our community. It’s definitely something that we intend to tackle,” says Edgar Aguilar, program manager. He stresses that those seeking to enroll should know that they should never be charged any fee for assistance and that enrollment counselors are not allowed to ask for any financial information, such as credit card numbers or bank numbers,

Aguilar says that another challenge is educating mixed-status families. “A big fear is something called ‘public charge.’ Somebody can be deemed ‘public charge’ if they access public services and it affects them negatively in status adjustment. Word of mouth is powerful among the Latino community,” he says. “Our job is to clear this up and clear up misconceptions.”

While undocumented immigrants cannot participate in the healthcare exchanges, Aguilar says undocumented immigrants may fear that seeking healthcare for their family members who have legal status would affect their own chances of obtaining a green card.  The agencies explain that seeking medical insurance for their families would not be considered “public charge.”

Advising undocumented immigrants that they can seek coverage for their family members with legal status is important, since according to The Pew Hispanic Center, nearly two-thirds of unauthorized immigrants had lived in the U.S. for at least a decade and nearly half (46 percent) were parents of minor children in 2010.

The most important part of the work they do, Aguilar believes, is explaining exactly how health insurance works. Some immigrants, for instance, may be unfamiliar with the U.S. healthcare system.

“Health care isn’t something you think about until you need it. We want to change that attitude,” says Aguilar. “Our community needs to understand that regular doctor visits can prevent so many diseases,”

Aguilar believes that healthcare access is important, but that it’s even more important to educate communities about how to effectively utilize those services.

It is estimated that about nine million Latinos will gain health insurance through the Affordable Care Act. So far, 6.1 million Latinos have already gained coverage for preventive services without out-of-pocket costs.

Many organizations are educating Latinos about their options and helping them enroll in plans that suit their needs. Vanessa Gonzalez-Plumhoff, director of Latino Leadership and Engagement at Planned Parenthood Federation of America, says her organization is actively engaging the community through the internet and door to door outreach.

Because Latinos over index on social media, Gonzalez-Plumhoff says they are pushing out information through their website, Twitter, and Facebook. Planned Parenthood has also launched new sites in English and Spanish to help everyone understand what the law means, how they can benefit, and why it’s important to have health insurance. Additionally, they can sign up for email updates and text SALUD to 97779 to get important information about the Affordable Care Act. Their new site will also include a guide for women who are searching for insurance coverage in the marketplace. Since many will be searching for a plan for the first time, the interview guide can help women select the best plan for them.

“In our community there’s a sense of ‘I’ve never had healthcare and why should I have it now?’” says Gonzalez-Plumbloff, who hopes that with the proper information, those who have been uninsured will be willing to enroll. She points out that that birth control benefits will be especially beneficial to Latinas because they have the highest unintended pregnancy rates and are most likely to skip birth control due to cost. “Eliminating the copay is huge,” she says.

Planned Parenthood says it is prepared for the challenges they might face in promoting the Affordable Care Act in the Latino community, especially among undocumented immigrants. “When you have a large government program, it can make people in our community a little nervous. Planned Parenthood is canvassing to provide people information at their homes. If they can’t qualify, we’re encouraging them to register the rest of their family,” Gonzalez-Plumhoff says.

Erika Sanchez NBC Latino avatar

Erika L. Sánchez is a writer and poet living in Chicago.  She is a recipient of a Fulbright Scholarship and the 2013 “Discovery”/Boston Review poetry prize. You can find her on TwitterFacebook, or www.erikalsanchez.com

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