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California Marketplace Still Lags in Signing Up Latinos and Young Adults

With just a few weeks remaining before the March 31 enrollment deadline, California has signed up more than 923,000 people in its new insurance marketplace—more than a fifth of the national tally, officials announced Wednesday.

But the state’s success story continues to be marred by slow progress in reaching Latinos and young people in general, both considered crucial to the success of Obamacare.

Latinos make up 46 percent of those eligible for subsidies in the marketplace, Covered California, but just 22 percent of those enrolled.

Young adults (ages 18 to 34) account for about 36 percent of those eligible for subsidies yet about 27 percent of those signed up.

Covered California executive director Peter Lee said the exchange was “doubling down” in its effort to enroll both groups.

Hundreds of enrollment events are planned at barbershops, colleges and libraries across the state before the end of the month. Lee said the exchange is concentrating the enrollment push in heavily Latino areas, including Riverside, the Central Valley and parts of Los Angeles.

In general, officials said California continues to make progress in bringing coverage to the uninsured.  In addition to the 923,832 people who had picked an insurance plan through Covered California as of last week, they said, 2.1 million people had joined the  Medi-Cal program or been determined likely to be eligible.  Medi-Cal is the state’s version of Medicaid, the government insurance program for the poor and disabled.

About 85% of those who have signed up for private insurance plans have paid their premiums.

Addressing the lagging Latino enrollment, Lee said many in this group have had a “culture of coping” without insurance, often relying on safety net clinics or traveling to Mexico for care. Community workers and enrollment counselors are trying to change that by explaining the importance of health insurance and preventive care, he said.

Thursday’s event was held at Plaza Olvera in downtown Los Angeles, known for its celebration of Latino culture. Among the participants was longtime organizer and civil rights leader Dolores Huerta, who worked closely with Cesar Chavez.

For many Latinos, convincing them to enroll will take one-on-one conversations in their homes and communities, she said. “People think they don’t have to get insurance until they get sick,” said Huerta, wearing a “Si Se Puede” button.

In an attempt to boost Latino enrollment, the exchange has made changes to the Spanish-language website, added more bilingual employees and held numerous events in communities with large Latino populations. The insurance exchange also began a new advertising campaign that includes voices of Latinos who are now signed up for insurance.

One of those in the campaign, who was introduced at the event on Thursday, Luis Lupercio, 38, said he signed up for a policy with Health Net and is only paying $1 a month.

Lupercio, who lives in Orange County, said he went for years without insurance. Now, the father of two said he can skateboard with his children without worrying about getting hurt. “I am not as young as I was,” he said.

Lee said the push to get Latinos enrolled would continue long past the cut-off date.

“We won’t be done after open enrollment,” he said. “This is a multi-year effort, particularly in communities that aren’t as familiar with insurance.”

The exchange is also continuing to reach out to young people. Tamika Butler, California director of the Young Invincibles organization, said she and others are trying to increase enrollment by urging people to “tell a friend.”

Officials expect a surge in sign-ups before March 31, the last day people can enroll in coverage without facing a penalty.

KHN (Kaiser Health News) is a national newsroom that produces in-depth journalism about health issues. Together with Policy Analysis and Polling, KHN is one of the three major operating programs at KFF (Kaiser Family Foundation). KFF is an endowed nonprofit organization providing information on health issues to the nation.

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