As Health Insurance Deadline Approaches, NY Said to Lag in Outreach to Latinos

President Obama signing the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act on March 23, 2010. Deadline for enrolling for health insurance through the ACA is March 31st. (Photo: Wikipedia)

President Obama signing the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act on March 23, 2010. Deadline for enrolling for health insurance through the ACA is March 31st. (Photo: Wikipedia)

By Mark Scheerer, originally published by Public News Service in partnership with NewsTaco.

While half a million New Yorkers have signed up for health insurance under the Affordable Care Act, New York has not done a good job of reaching out to Latinos and immigrants, according to Jackie Vimo of the New York Immigration Coalition. Just look at the state health care exchange website, she said – if you can read English.

“It is a little bit mind-boggling that New York did not consider it a priority to translate the web site, given that we have a law that requires vital documents to be translated,” Vimo said.

The deadline to enroll in a marketplace plan for this year is March 31. Those who do not sign up for health coverage could face penalties.

The actual application in New York is only available in English. Operators said translations are in the works, and Spanish-speaking operators are available by phone.

New York is among the five states with the greatest number of eligible uninsured Latinos, an estimated 500,000. Nationwide, 32 percent of Latinos are uninsured, compared to 16 percent of non-Latinos.

According to U.S. Census data, a large majority of Latinos in the U.S. are English-dominant, and 63 percent were born in this country. The longer people reside in the U.S., the more likely they are to have health insurance.

Vimo said the state has not released any demographic information about people who have obtained insurance.

“In New York, we don’t even have data on how many Latinos or other immigrants have signed up for the exchange. The New York Immigration Coalition has recently submitted a Freedom of Information Act request asking for that data,” she said.

With just days to get an application in during this first open-enrollment period, Mayra Alvarez with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services said there are myriad options.

“They can do it in person in their community with someone they trust. They can do it online at HealthCare.gov. They can do it via phone at 1-800-318-2596. They can even do it with a paper application,” Alvarez explained.

Vimo said her group is exploring ways to push for exceptions under the law for those who were challenged in meeting next Monday’s deadline.

Individuals may be exempted from the requirement to buy insurance if they file a form and qualify, for example, if their previous plan was terminated and no affordable alternative plan is available. If they think insurance is unaffordable based on their projected income, they may be allowed to buy a policy for catastrophic coverage only. Information about exemptions is available at Healthcare.gov.

Fi2W is supported by the David and Katherine Moore Family Foundation and the Ralph E. Odgen Foundation.

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