Doing what we can, with what we have, now
Op-ed by Alyse Lopez-Salm, MPH, CHES
This past week I received an email from a former Spanish-speaking client who has been working diligently to rebuild her life after leaving an abusive partner several years ago. She wanted to let me know that she signed-up for health insurance and was excited to start using her new plan, something that would have been impossible for her before the ACA existed. While it’s true that this law’s implementation has been far from smooth, real people are obtaining health insurance like never before in U.S. history.
Consider these statistics:
“Eight in 10 uninsured Latinos may qualify for Medicaid, CHIP or lower costs on monthly premiums in the Health Insurance Marketplace.” (HHS, 2014)
Of the nearly 803,000 Georgians will are eligible for new premium tax credits to help pay for the monthly cost of insurance, 13% are Latino. This is 104,390 Latinos!*
(Families USA, 2013)
The fact is, the ACA is going to permanently change the lives of millions of Latinos and many others throughout the country. Maybe it will go about it differently than we would’ve liked, but not encouraging participation, especially when so many stand to benefit, is counterproductive to the shared goal of supporting community members in their efforts to achieve healthier, longer lives.
During my time as Project Manager for an outstanding group of community health educators with the Hispanic Health Coalition of Georgia (HHCGA), I found considerable resentment, confusion and sometimes, disengagement regarding the Affordable Care Act (aka “ACA”/ “Obamacare”/“health reform”) among a number of leaders within Georgia’s Latino community. Some gatekeepers also expressed fear of potential backlash resulting from any attempt to inform community members about new options for health insurance and eligibility, primarily as a result of the political tension surrounding the law. I do empathize with their feelings, especially given the way that much of the messaging around the law has been fraught with contention and frustrating, last-minute changes. Add-in the lack of clarity around the ACA’s rules and regulations as well as the exclusion of undocumented community members and DACA recipients, and I can certainly see how some might be disenchanted with what healthcare reform has to offer.
Despite this reality, we can and must do better at spreading the word about what the ACA means for people and their families. More Latinos will gain insurance coverage as a result of this law than any other group in the country. Further, we know that health insurance is a critical first step in ensuring better healthcare access within the community, and particularly access to the types of preventive care that we know saves lives. Together, we can continue to advocate for better policy and equal access to healthcare while also ensuring that all those who could possibly benefit from this law do so now. As someone who considers herself an ally to many of the Latino community leaders and youth in Georgia, I ask that you join me in spreading this very important message.
Let’s stand together in solidarity, spreading the word about these benefits and setting aside the controversy. As with other issues, the community deserves nothing less than the facts. Health insurance coverage is no small thing and for the first time in U.S. history, it’s being made accessible like never before. #¡Aseguremonos!
Apply ONLINE: http://www.cuidadodesalud.gov
Apply IN-PERSON: https://localhelp.healthcare.gov/
Get support OVER THE PHONE: 1-800-318-2596
For those working with Latino communities in Georgia and elsewhere, please join me in sharing the following information:
- People’s applications for health insurance will not be used to target them or their family members for deportation and will not affect their immigration status now or in the future. (Healthcare.gov, 2014) Read more on this here.
- Undocumented parents can apply for health insurance for their children. If their children are denied Medicaid because their family experienced an increase in income, their children may now qualify for low-cost insurance options- regardless of parents’ immigration status.
- Don’t be intimated by the “raw” cost of the health insurance plans on the marketplace. The subsidies that many people will receive to offset monthly premiums are considerable. For instance, HHS estimates that many eligible Latinos will find that they and their families qualify for insurance plans costing LESS than $100/month. For families on a fixed income, I realize this may still be a challenge, but for many, and particularly those with chronic conditions like diabetes, this will open doors for them to access affordable health insurance.
- If you don’t have insurance and think you might qualify, #ASEGÚRATE (Get insured!)- and before March 31st! The next open enrollment period won’t begin until November 15th, 2014.
- Due to the limited number of Spanish-speaking navigators, some people may experience delays in scheduling appointments for in-person enrollment. To be clear, navigators and certified application counselors are the first people that those needing personalized assistance should look to for enrollment support. Additionally, to help expand the pool of certified, bilingual assisters, agencies can learn more about becoming a “Certified Application Counselor Organization” here.
That being said, it is perfectly acceptable to consider contacting insurance companies directly. Many may have agents that are willing to help with enrollment. Just remember to encourage community members to take their time and choose wisely- there are currently 5 companies in Georgia competing for their business. It’s critical that community members know they have the right to “shop around,” ask questions and find the best fit for their budget and health needs before choosing a plan.
These companies are:
BlueCross, BlueShield of Georgia
- If someone doesn’t want to purchase insurance, they don’t “have” to. The penalty for remaining uninsured during this first year is $95/person or 1% of your income, whichever is larger. Just keep in mind that what you could receive is incredibly important- and may just be a great bargain! What’s more, next year, the penalty will be much higher and who knows what could happen to someone’s health between now and then- especially as median cost of an ER visit is now upwards of $1,233! (PLOS ONE, 2013)
- The ACA is much more than the health insurance marketplace; it includes unprecedented investments in preventive care and public health and creates new protections for patients, including the requirement that insurance companies must now cover individuals with pre-existing conditions, something that wasn’t true before it existed- not even for children.
Alyse Lopez-Salm, MPH, CHES is a former Program Manager with the with the Hispanic Health Coalition of Georgia’s (HHCGA) ACA Education Team, an incredible group of talented community educators that has reached over 30,000 Latinos with health reform information to date. Prior to her work with HHCGA, she was a graduate student at Emory University’s Rollins School of Public Health and has worked as a Research Assistant with HHCGA and Community Outreach Advocate with Partnership Against Domestic Violence (PADV). She resigned her position with HHCGA in December, 2013 to relocate to Durham, NC, where she currently works as a Bilingual Health Education Specialist.