Covered California Latino Signups Might be Less Disappointing if the State Had Paper Spanish Applications

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Everyone knew early on that for Covered California to be considered a success in the state, Latinos would have to participate. This critical, yet hard to reach, group makes up nearly 60% of the state’s 7 million uninsured.

Although Covered California accounted for nearly one-third (pdf) of the nation’s Obamacare enrollees through November, it may be failing to sign up Latinos. Less than 5% of the 109,296 enrollees are enrolling in Spanish. Covered California does not know how many of its participants are Latinos who speak English, but 5% is considerably below the 29% of California Latinos who primarily speak Spanish.

Forty-three percent more Pacific Islanders and Asians (6,244), who together make up just 10% of the state, signed up for health care.

Covered California officials spoke early and often during the year about an outreach program into communities that for socio-economic reasons do not participate in public activities at the same level as the population in general. More than $80 million has, and is being spent, on advertising and marketing on Spanish TV, radio and other media.

Although there have been problems in the various outreach programs, other problems exist. For instance, there is the lack of Spanish paper applications. Still. Ten weeks into Covered California’s launch.

The Spanish version of the website was reportedly riddled with typographical errors at the outset, which might have been an impediment to using the site if it worked at all. But seeing the Spanish word “si” (if) instead of “sí” (yes) on the homepage probably wasn’t as stupefying as not being able to log into one’s account, save one’s work, avoid a system crash or complete enrollment.

Kaiser Health News summarized some of the state’s other problems. “Not enough bilingual phone operators were hired to guide consumers through the online process. And there is still a shortage of on-the-ground enrollment counselors, who can explain the process in person in clinics and other community settings.”  At one point, Spanish-speakers were guided by the phone system to English-language prompts.

Gabriel R. Sanchez, head of the Robert Wood Johnson Center for Health Policy at the University of New Mexico, told the Washington Post the poor Latino numbers in California could be a “red flag” for the rest of the country. Some states with large Latino populations, like Florida and Texas, are run by Republicans who haven’t been supportive of the Affordable Care Act.  

It didn’t help that, the Spanish-language version of, only became active a week ago. There was no action during the “Hispanic Week of Action” that was scheduled for October because of the woeful website problems and bad publicity. It was pushed forward to January.

–Ken Broder


To Learn More:

Health Insurance Enrollment by Hispanics Is Lagging in California (by Sandhya Somashekhar, Washington Post)

California Health Insurance Exchange Struggling to Enroll Latinos (by Chad Terhune and Eryn Brown, Los Angeles Times)

Turning the Corner? In California, At Least, Obamacare Sign-Ups Zoom (by Charles Ornstein, ProPublica)

Some New Covered California Enrollment Data Raise Questions (by Paul Glickman with Adrian Florido, KPCC)

Covered California Faulted for Failing to Reach More Spanish Speakers (by Anna Gorman, Kaiser Health News)

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