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Latino Enrollment Lagging On Covered California

Above: The state's online health insurance exchange Covered California.

Aired 11/26/13 on KPBS News.

Latinos make up nearly half of California’s 7 million uninsured population but Latino enrollment on the online Covered California web site has been dismal.

Nearly 80,000 people have signed up for health insurance on Covered California since Oct. 1, but Latino enrollment at the online health exchange has been dismal.

Latinos make up nearly half of California’s 7 million uninsured population. Under Obamacare, many of them are eligible for federal subsidies, or Medi-Cal, which doesn’t charge a premium.

Even so, Covered California spokesperson Santiago Lucero said in October, less than 1,000 enrollees were primarily Spanish speakers.

"It’s a clear message that we gotta do a lot more," Lucero said. "But we are not disappointed. We knew that enrollment the first month was gonna be low. And with the Latino community, it’s a different ballgame."

A survey from the Pew Research Center reveals Latinos whose primary language is Spanish tend to use the Internet much less than other populations.

Lucero said that’s a crucial distinction.

"The personal experience for the Latino community is huge. So, they would rather have somebody in a specific location that they can go and talk to, rather than talking to somebody on the phone, or going online," he explained.

To that end, community clinics throughout California have Spanish-speaking enrollment counselors.

Neighborhood Healthcare operates 10 community clinics in San Diego and Riverside counties.

Executive director Tracy Ream said she’s not surprised about the low enrollment numbers among Latinos.

'We were expecting that to be the case, partly because many of our patients in particular, have never, ever had exposure to having health insurance," Ream said.

California health officials hope to enroll more than 1 million people in subsidized health plans by the end of 2014.

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