Covered California Officials Admit They Need To Do More To Attract Latinos
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: This is KPBS Midday Edition, I am Maureen Cavanaugh. Our top story today, the delays in the national Obama care website has dominated headlines for weeks. Here in California sign-ups for Covered California have been moving around with fewer problems. The first coverage deadline is coming up although people have until March to take advantage of open enrollment. Next Monday is the deadline. It's a good time for an update. I would like to welcome Lizelda Lopez and Gary Rotto. Welcome back to the show. How is the Covered California website doing? LIZELDA LOPEZ: We're having so much demand and we know that it can slow down the website so we give people options to visit us and shop around and compare. If you're there to figure out what the different plans are for San Diego, and your county and to figure out what it will cost you, and a calculator outside of the enrollment site that you can put in basic information and it will tell you to the penny the plans available to you and the cost and how much money you could get from the federal government. It helps you to think through it. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Is a doing better than what we're hearing of the national site? LIZELDA LOPEZ: That is more than fair to say, we have not had those kinds of problems. We have taken the website down at times to make updates and improve functionality but we have not had this problem's. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: How may people have signed up in San Diego? LIZELDA LOPEZ: About 10,000 people have enrolled in San Diego. Some have gotten financial assistance and some have not. We're encouraged about those numbers and we know that San Diego makes up about 8% of the Roman we were expecting and we're now at 9%. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Have most been set eligible for subsidies? LIZELDA LOPEZ: About half-and-half. We have a good number of people who've been waiting for insurance. People who had pre-existing conditions. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Remind us what that means. Some are eligible for subsidy, how does that work? LIZELDA LOPEZ: Based on your income if you are a family of four making up to $94,000 a year or an individual making $45,000 a year, the figure income it's a sliding scale. If you make up to $94,000 a year, the amount of assistance would be much lower than if you made $17,000 a year. It's all documented on our website and we will tell you on your income about $200 a month to pay towards your premium putting on your income. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Do you wait for a check in the mail? Or does it come off the cost that you'd pay for insurance? LIZELDA LOPEZ: What happens is you get your bill from insurance companies and it would say you are responsible for this much, they get the difference from federal government. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: What does the Monday deadline mean? LIZELDA LOPEZ: December 23 is the last day for people to enroll for coverage to be effective by January 2014. January 1 is an important date for us. We want people to have the health coverage they need at an affordable price. If you missed the cut off, he still have time as open enrollment goes through March 1, 2014. You'll have to wait if you signed up the twenty-seventh. GARY ROTTO: What Lizelda is mentioning is so important. People are worried about individual mandates January 1 is not the final deadline, it's March. If you want to be covered ñ if you are unprepared, do not worry, you can still get covered and comply with the law. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: If someone takes advantage of the open enrollment, and does not apply they have until March 31. When does their coverage start? LIZELDA LOPEZ: If you sign up by the fifteenth on both most months than your coverage is effective the next month. If you wait until March 31, then your coverage does not start until May. You're going without insurance until then. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: When do consumers start to pay premiums? LIZELDA LOPEZ: Have to pay the first premium for coverage that begins January 1 by January 6. We're giving people come to adjust that with holiday spending going on, given people time to adjust that they paid by the sixth, they are covered by the first. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Gary, how are clinics preparing for the changes? GARY ROTTO: We have over eighty sites of care in San Diego and 122 other networks. As part of the Affordable Care Act the responding put aside for competitive grants grants for areas that need develop or expansion. Are clinics our clinics have been competing for those funds. Many of these other sites of care and beer are excited about opportunities for people. We will continue to see it have coverage for those who have been hesitant about the coverage. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: We have a caller on the line who wants to talk about the fact that it took him a long time to sign up. Welcome to the program. NEW SPEAKER: Good afternoon. My wife and I have not been successful signing up, we checked out the website a number of times and months passed and figured we would wait until the bugs are worked out. My wife has tried to sign up and she gets to a certain point and it will not go any farther, when she emailed she said that she got a response that she was under sixty-three in line and she waited when it came down to it when she got to do number one no one was it available to deal with it and she is called and never got a response. We're frustrated. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Thank you for the call. Lizelda? LIZELDA LOPEZ: I apologize for your delay, they are experiencing high demand and here is a suggestion and I apologize again for you having to wait and your wife having to wait. There's a button on a website called find help near you, front and center on our site. It does not take you to enrollment, it keeps you there and gives you basic information about counselors and enrollment counselors to help you sign up, or certified insurance agents that are part of our family of covered California, as well as local human services agency offices to help you sign up as well. See if that satisfies you, start with calling an insurance agent. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Have you heard the same thing from a lot of people? LIZELDA LOPEZ: There have been delays on the website and it determines when is determined by when people call it. If expanded hours of operation and it will be open every day including Sunday, to accommodate the increased demand. GARY ROTTO: There seems to be a certain days and times that enrollment is higher 2 o'clock in the afternoon it seems to be a peak demand time. We do not know what it is. Try different days and times and seek out whether it is one of our enrollment counselors, we are happy and delighted to work with you. Many of the broker agents as well. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: You were telling us about how clinics have been boosting for the influx of newly insured patients, as he had made these plans here in San Diego, what kinds of visits do you expect will increase most? You think people coming up for checkups and chronic conditions, have you thought about that? Where will you see this boom in new patients? GARY ROTTO: We typically see the folks with chronic conditions. We also provide mental health services that we may find that it is not uncommon for people to come in for one reason and is another health need that as a physician discovers what else is going on in help them to understand health and maintain better health. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: After the rollout of Romney care in Massachusetts, apparently many new patients went to emergency rooms rather than hospital in the hospitals because they thought that's how it worked. LIZELDA LOPEZ: We're doing whatever we can to make sure that people come in and choose a primary care doctor and insurance companies are going to give them information that they need so they know they have separate options. Whatever works best for them. Working with health plans to make that happen here. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Preferred that wrote enrollment in we have heard that enrollment in the Latino community is like. What are we doing to reach out to them? LIZELDA LOPEZ: We do know that we need to do a better job they sure that Hispanics and Latinos are setting up in their numbers. We do have a website in Spanish and the bigger recognition this that we know that Latinos have a lot of questions only if made local assistance much work prominent on our website so if they want to talk face-to-face with someone of they can do so and we do know that it is a challenge for families that have someone in the family who is undocumented. It does not have to be within the immediate family. The two families are very big and that includes the cousins and grandma and grandpa, if there is that fear that somebody in the family does not have documents to be in the country legally, the family will suffer for it and they may be unsure of coming to us and the federal government has made a commitment not to use any information against these families, we're not sharing any information, we need to verify identity and the federal government is helping us with that, but after that that is it. We do not share information that is not necessary. GARY ROTTO: Whether someone is a non-natives and English they each speaker or competent English, they can ask questions because somebody people who are on insured not only have coverage but in San Diego have many different health plans and each of those have a different plan because there are so many options. I know that these numbers will also show the first complete applications, there is somebody application started that we continue to help with, because people get in and say they are not quite sure where what's provider they want and they like the doctors. To make a point to figure this out and complete the application that is what we're finding, even in the Spanish-speaking community, we're doing it additional outreach programs that we had a food bank last night. Are counselors were on the life of to take phone calls and they had a one hour and over 150 phone calls with people wanting to get it additional information so they could complete the application. LIZELDA LOPEZ: We have 770,000 applications for certain for the month of October 10 through November. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: People either just stopped because they need information or they're going to take it off-line to speak face-to-face with counselor. LIZELDA LOPEZ: That is a good question, we want to make sure that we're reaching out to folks and asking them what they need. GARY ROTTO: Some applications are completed and pay on paper or off-line your numbers do not reflect those yet. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Out of time, but I want to ask one more question, do you think the San Diego health system is ready for the influx of patients that they're going to get? GARY ROTTO: I believe the clinics are, and the partners that we work with are prepared. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: All right, prepared. I want to thank my guests. Thank you both very much.
In California, people who primarily speak Spanish make up 29 percent of the population.
But so far, that group makes up only 5 percent of those who’ve signed up for health insurance through Covered California. Officials say statewide in October and November, fewer than 4,500 primarily Spanish-speakers enrolled in a plan.
California is not the only state facing this issue. Kevin Counihan directs Connecticut’s exchange, called Health Access CT. He said Latino enrollment in his state is also low.
“I would say this is an area where I think we need to do a better job," Counihan said. "Our Spanish version of the website is not coming up for a month, and that’s delayed. And I think that there’s more that we need to do.”
Covered California officials agree. They admit that more than two months after the exchange opened for business, there still isn’t a paper application available in Spanish.
Officials say they also need to hire more enrollment counselors who speak the language.
The exchange has set a goal of enrolling 700,000 Californians in subsidized health plans by the end of March.