Health & Science

Feds Hopeful Hispanics Will Respond During Third Round of Affordable Care Act

January 31, a Sunday, is the final deadline to buy health insurance through the Affordable Care Act. Federal officials are reaching out to previously uninsured individuals, with a special focus on Hispanics, to encourage them to enroll for the first time.

There’s football season, hunting season, and the holiday season. Overlapping all of these is something decidedly less fun and sexy: open enrollment season for health insurance.

“We’ve been busy this past month,” said Iris Galvez, a health insurance navigator with the Houston social services agency Change Happens!

Galvez helps people navigate the Healthcare.gov website and enroll in health plans offered through the Affordable Care Act marketplace.

“It’s the holidays that makes it hard, because people are like ‘Well, we’ll just put it off,’” Galvez said with a laugh. “But now we’re getting very busy.”

Earlier this month, Galvez helped Elisia and Cipriano Saenz, a couple from north Houston, select a plan with Molina.

“You’ll have to pay this much per month to Molina,” Galvez explained in Spanish, before handing over a summary sheet listing the couple’s monthly premium payment ($363), the federal subsidy ($691), deductible ($2,000), and copays ($20 for the primary care doctor, $55 for a specialist).

“They’re pretty good, reasonable,” Saenz said of the amounts. “We’ll be able to afford it.”

Elisia Saenz thanked Galvez for her assistance.

“You made our day,” she said. “Because we were having a hard time getting in to it.”

Last year, her husband Cipriano Saenz did try to sign the couple up, but he was confused, and then suspicious, when a government worker requested more paperwork and asked him to confirm his Social Security number.

“Sometimes we have to be careful who we talk to, give our Social Security, ID number,” Saenz explained. “He told them ‘I’m very sorry. I can’t give my information to y’all through phone.’”

Elisia Saenz said he never followed up, and the insurance lapsed.

“Something had gone wrong, or maybe he didn’t understand,” she said.  

Signing up can be a chore. You need to gather financial documents and set aside money for the monthly premium. Not only that, it’s just emotionally unpleasant to think about risk and injury and disease.

Galvez noted that some of her returning clients were angry this year because the insurance networks had become narrower. Almost all the coverage plans on the exchange in Houston are now HMOs. 

“This year they have taken away the PPO. So a lot of people are not pleased with that,” Galvez said.

Still, she tries to focus on the positives –not only avoiding the federal tax penalty for not being covered, but also the peace of mind that insurance will bring.

“You never know, you know? You fall and slip and break your leg, that’s a big bill from the hospital,” she said.

Elisia Saenz is 56 and Cipriano Saenz is 62. They work as janitors at a charter school, where Elisia also works in the kitchen. She said they can’t afford the insurance offered at the school.

“It’s been years that I haven’t been to a doctor or nothing,” Elisia said. “Thank God that I haven’t gotten sick. Now I can just go and get a whole physical, and he can do the same. So we’re happy that we got this.”

The Obama administration has increased its outreach this year to Hispanics, running special ads and targeting cities like Houston with big Hispanic communities.

Across the country, 20.9 percent of Hispanics are uninsured in the U.S., compared to 12.7 percent of blacks and 9.1 percent of whites, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.  

There are lots of reasons why. Hispanics are more likely to work in jobs that don’t offer health benefits. Many are ineligible for the Affordable Care Act, or just don’t know about the options available.

Of the three states with the biggest Hispanic populations, only one, California, has chosen to expand Medicaid to low-income, uninsured adults. Florida and Texas have not expanded Medicaid, and that’s affected many low-income Hispanic adults.

In surveys, Hispanics explain the main reason they are uninsured is cost. Health coverage just seems too expensive to fit into a budget.

“They don’t make enough money where they work at, or they work self-employed, cutting yards and stuff,” said Elisia Saenz, describing some of her Hispanic neighbors.

“Sometimes they can barely, probably make it to pay the rent, feed their kids, clothe them. I know it’s kind of hard for them, if it’s just one person working in the household.”

Federal officials counter that’s an outdated perception for some Hispanics – because under the new law, many would qualify for subsidies to buy insurance, just like the Saenzs did.

Enrollment for 2016 ends Sunday.

Enroll America is offering these five helpful tips for Latino families about their health insurance options:

  1. People with many different immigration statuses may be eligible to sign up: Both citizens and lawfully present non-citizens may be eligible for coverage through the Health Insurance Marketplace, Medicaid, and CHIP. Non-citizens with the following immigration statuses are eligible for coverage and financial help through the marketplace: Green Card Holders, Refugees, Asylees, Lawful Temporary Residents, and others. A full list can be found here: https://www.healthcare.gov/immigrants/immigration-status/.
  2. Non-eligible family members can apply on behalf of eligible dependents: While those who don’t have an eligible immigration status cannot enroll in marketplace coverage, they can apply for coverage on behalf of their eligible dependents. For example, undocumented parents can apply on behalf of their eligible children. If you are applying for coverage for a dependent and not yourself, you will not be asked about your immigration status and information provided won’t be used for immigration enforcement purposes.
  3. A variety of immigration documents can be used to verify immigration status on the health application: Allowed documents include: “Green Card (I-551),” “Refugee Travel Document (I-571)” and “Employment Authorization Card (I-766).” A full list of acceptable documents can be found at: https://www.healthcare.gov/help/immigration-document-types/
  4. Free, in-person, culturally and linguistically appropriate assistance is available to help: In-person assisters in Texas speak a variety of languages. And the operators of the toll-free enrollment number at the Health Insurance Marketplace, 1-800-318-2596, speak thirteen different languages, including Spanish. To book an appointment with an in-person assister call 800-318-2596 or visit http://www.GCAConnector.org.
  5. Coverage can be more affordable than you think: Financial help is available to lower your premiums. Last enrollment period, 85% of Texans who signed up through the marketplace got help paying for health insurance. Also, for many low-income families Medicaid provides free or low-cost coverage, and enrollment is open year round.

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Florian Martin

Florian Martin

Business Reporter

Florian Martin is currently the News 88.7 business reporter. Florian’s stories can frequently be heard on other public radio stations throughout Texas and on NPR nationwide. Some of them have earned him awards from Texas AP Broadcasters, the Houston Press Club, National Association of Real Estate Editors, and Public Radio...

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