October 10, 2013

By Charlene Muhammad

LAWT Contributing Writer


The six-month open enrollment period for Covered California — the state’s health insurance exchange marketplace — kicked off Oct. 1, making the benefits of Obamacare available to millions of Californians.

In the early stages, Covered California is working to ensure that Californians can better understand how the exchange will deliver affordable healthcare to their families (at a kickoff event at Los Angeles’ Union Station, executive director Peter Lee said, “Welcome to affordable care. Welcome to security. Welcome to peace of mind … where we as a nation say for the first time, health care is a right not a privilege”) and troubleshoot computer glitches that left some unable to properly access its online offerings in the early going.

Meanwhile, African-Americans are chief among those standing to benefit from what is offered during the enrollment period — as consumers are implored to use www.CoveredCa.com to determine whether they are eligible for Medi-Cal, premium assistance or can sign up for private insurance plans.

“For Black folks, it means more access to healthcare,” said Jan Robinson Flint, executive director of the Los Angeles-based nonprofit health advocacy organization Black Women for Wellness. “A lot of us have had chronic illnesses, so now they can’t send our premiums through the sky and cut us off.”

But are enough black consumers sufficiently aware of the benefits of California’s new healthcare marketplace?

“Covered California has a little way to go with getting the word out to our community,” acknowledged Flint, whose organization is among a handful contracted to help spread the word. “In a way, I’m saying there’s good and there’s bad. There are a multitude of Black organizations and Black media that all need to be involved in the process of moving us forward.  It can’t be just one or two organizations. … So far, they’ve not done a great job of making that happen, but I’m hopeful. I’m hopeful that they’ll listen to the organizations that they are in partnership with to say, ‘Let’s do that, then.’”

In terms of outreach, California Black Media executive director Regina Brown Wilson noted that Covered California’s multicultural marketing firm has begun seeking proposals from Black media outlets, which have long been regarded as the most effective medium for disseminating information in the African-American community.

As those talks proceed, she hopes that African-Americans who need health insurance immediately aren’t forced to “stumble onto [the benefits of Covered California] and figure out how to go about getting them.” Rather, it would be optimal for those information sources most trusted by black consumers to be in close partnership with the forces behind this history-making healthcare marketplace.

“I think it’s going to happen over a gradual period of time, as they start to figure out how this whole thing’s going to work,” said Wilson. “As of right now, do I think there’s going to be a full-blown marketing campaign to African Americans? No. But we look forward to seeing a comprehensive strategy that is fully inclusive of our community.”

When the word does get out, there will be plenty of good news in it for African-Americans in California. Among some of the basic benefits people can expect when coverage under Obamacare starts on Jan. 1, 2014: statewide access to preventative care; reduced maximum out-of-pocket costs for doctor’s visits; and the ability for children to stay on their parents’ health insurance plans until age 26.

For black small business owners   — those with up to 50 eligible employees — who purchase coverage for workers, there may be eligibility for federal tax credits. Though businesses of that size are are not required to provide coverage for their employees, they are required to inform workers of the available health coverage options.

Employees already insured through their companies don’t have to purchase extra insurance or leave their employer-sponsored plans. But if doing so would result in a lower premium, they may switch from employer-based coverage to plans on the Covered California exchange site.

These are welcome developments in this state — where more than 16 percent of black Californians are completely uninsured, according to a 2011 report by the California Healthcare Foundation.

“We’re doing a lot of education around what it is and how it’s going to benefit us and how to get our community engaged,” said Sandy Cook, a certified Covered California educator and a program manager for Sisters With Options. “The number one thing people say they don’t know is, [how much it will cost]. That’s a real concern, so it’s challenging.

Category: Health