Calif. Launches Ads to Boost Asian Enrollment in Health Exchange

Calif. Launches Ads to Boost Asian Enrollment in Health Exchange

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above photo: From left to right, Larry Loo, director of business operations with the Chinese Community Health Plan, Peter Lee, executive director of Covered California, Angela Sun, executive director of Chinese Community Health Resource Center.

SAN FRANCISCO – Eager to get as many Asians as possible to buy health insurance on the online marketplace called Covered California, the state this week ramped up its in-language advertising campaign, covering billboards with marketing slogans in areas that have a high concentration of Asian communities.

“A New Era in Affordable Health Care,” said one billboard in Chinese that showed a smiling Asian father holding his young son in his arms.

Asians make up about 14 percent, or 5.3 million, of the the state’s population, and an estimated 14 percent of them have modest enough incomes that could qualify them for federal subsidies on the Exchange, pointed out Covered California’s Executive Director Peter Lee at a press conference here Nov. 14, at the Chinese Historical Society of America Museum. Another 8 percent are expected to qualify for low-cost or no-cost coverage through Medi-Cal.

“Our mission is to increase access to health care in all segments of California, so reaching these diverse communities in their languages will be vital to educating people about the new marketplace and the benefits of getting covered,” Lee said, pointing out to the half a dozen or so media representatives at the event that more than 100,000 Chinese Americans in the state have limited English language skills.

Although California has one-third of the nation’s enrollment in the exchange created under the Affordable Care Act, the number of enrollees is still far short of its goal of 500,000 by its extended deadline of March. This week, Pres. Obama announced lackluster enrollment nationwide.

Since Open Enrollment began for Covered California Oct. 1, some 60,000 people have so far enrolled.

Lee said he did not have demographic information on Exchange enrollees, but those figures may be available by the middle of next week.

He also announced that even though Covered California’s website currently is in English and Spanish, by next year’s Open Enrollment period his agency will have it in Chinese as well.

“But don’t wait for that to happen before you enroll for health insurance,” Lee said. “The big number is 12/15 (Dec. 15, 2013). If you don’t sign up by then you won’t have insurance on Jan. 1, 2014.”

Larry Loo, director of business operations with the Chinese Community Health Plan (CCHP), one of 11 insurers currently on the Exchange, said that his company staff speak English, Mandarin and Cantonese, but noted that anyone can purchase insurance from it.

Angela Sun, executive director of the Chinese Community Health Resource Center, said that her organization has trained 10 counselors to help those in the Chinese community enroll on the Exchange. Many of them sometimes spend two to three hours sitting down with each prospective enrollee.

“In the Chinese community, people are going to be walking in to meet with counselors, not going online,” she said.

The majority of people from the general population who have so far signed up for Covered California has been older people, many with pre-existing health conditions who had not been able to get insurance because of that. Healthy people need to enroll in order to make insurance costs financially viable for everyone.

Asked if he worried that insurers might raise premiums and deductibles next year if the trend continued, Lee emphatically said no.

“We are going to make sure young people enroll,” he asserted.