New America Media
By Zaineb Mohammed
4.7 million uninsured or underinsured Californians are expected to become eligible for healthcare under the Affordable Care Act (ACA). And according to a report published by the Greenlining Institute, most of the newly eligible will be from communities of color.
However, without an effective outreach campaign catered to the needs of ethnic communities, the benefits of the ACA may not reach those most in need.
The report, “How to Ensure the Health Benefit Exchange Reaches all Californians,” outlines the challenges inherent to enrolling people of color in the Health Benefit Exchange (Exchange), a virtual marketplace where consumers will be able to compare the benefits, costs, and services of one insurance option to another. The intention is to, “reduce costs by pooling consumers together in order to increase market leverage.”
The Exchange will take effect in January of 2014.
However, the primary access point for this resource will be online – a cause for concern because access to Internet is less prevalent amongst communities of color.
According to the Public Policy Institute of California, 81 percent of whites have broadband access at home, as opposed to 76 percent of Asians, 74 percent of Blacks, and only 55 percent of Latinos. Additionally, only 35 percent of Latinos and 39 percent of Blacks use the Internet to access government resources, as opposed to 64 percent of whites.
The disparity in access to digital technology makes the need for customized outreach to communities of color that much more urgent. This is especially critical because according to the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research, 57 percent of those who benefit from the Exchange will be from communities of color.
One of the Greenlining Institute’s suggestions to the Exchange board involves the use of smartphones.
Arguing that smartphones are, “the primary means of Internet access for 38 percent of African Americans and Hispanics,” the report suggests that the Exchange board conduct outreach through text messaging, with reminders for users to renew their insurance, complete their applications, or make payments.
But while smartphone campaigns may reach young people of color, elders and immigrants must be reached out to as well.
Carla Saporta, Health Policy Director at Greenlining and co-author of the report, emphasized the importance of involving ethnic media in outreach. “The Exchange needs to utilize community based organizations,” she said.
Another responsibility of the Exchange board is to establish a “navigator” program, to conduct outreach and provide information to consumers. Saporta spoke of the need to include established community members in this program: “We need to hear from the community [because] at this point community voice is not really [being] heard.”
Anthony Wright, Executive Director at Health Access, commented on the importance of the Greenlining report: “It’s important to take lessons from previous efforts. If this is going to work in California, it’s got to work for the diversity in California.”
The report is being sent to the Exchange board and other policy makers in California. Saporta will also be presenting Greenlining Institute’s findings on Friday and Saturday to the National Association of Insurance Commissioners.
“At this point, the Exchange board has been slow to want to do any type of outreach and education in the community,” said Saporta. “We needed to start doing this outreach yesterday.”