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Covered California's African-American Enrollment Figures Underwhelming Despite Gains

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Health insurance exchange maintained modest target with African-American enrollments

By Corey Arvin
Staff Writer

Notwithstanding wide disparities in access to quality health insurance, African-American enrollment into Covered California, the state’s extension of the Affordable Care Act, remained low, even though within previous projections.

As of the March 31 deadline, African-American enrollments were 3.2 percent of all enrollments for March. Previous data pinned African-American enrollments at 3.1 percent, with 25,886 enrollment for Oct. 1 through March 31. White, Latino and Asian enrollments overwhelmingly outpaced African-American enrollments. Latino enrollments stood at 252,167, Asian represented 211,667 enrollments, and whites represented 349,959 of total enrollments by March 31.

More enrollments are expected by April 15, the extended deadline for prospective enrollees who began the application process by March 31.

Community leaders have previously expressed concerns that not enough uninsured African-Americans were being enrolled and reached.

Overall, African-American sign-ups into Covered California will only represent 2.7 percent of enrollees, a meager projection based on a combined effort to reach the state’s uninsured blacks. Covered California was projected to reach 22,000 African-American enrollees, but expected an increase to almost 26,000 through the March 31 deadline.

Covered California partnered with statewide and community-based organizations specifically to support their African-American outreach, including the California Black Health Network (CBHN) and the California NAACP. CBHN and California NAACP received $1.6 Million in total grants, and about 30 community organizations received about $1.3 Million that would reach African-Americans.

According Jim Mangia, president and chief executive officer of St. John’s Well Child and Family Center (SJWCFC), African-Americans’ historical issues with accessing health insurance coverage and disparities with healthcare, underscore why reaching blacks should be a priority.

“I think there was somewhat of an underestimation on the part of Covered California on what it would take as far as an investment in molding historically disenfranchised communities. There was a similar issue with the Latino community. I don’t think there was a big enough upfront investment such as with [adding more] certified enrollment counselors.”

According to Covered California, there were 591 certified enrollment entities for African-Americans statewide, representing 78 percent of all certified enrollment entities. There were also more than 4,500 certified enrollment counselors, making up more than 81 percent of all certified enrollment counselors for African-Americans.

“The engagement has to be direct and concerted, culturally relevant and competent. When you are dealing with a community that has not had [health insurance] access and coverage you have to tailor your message,” said Mangia.

“With all due respect, you can't have a bunch of white folks going into the black community and teaching them about Obamacare. Sure, you will get some sign-ups but not as many as you need.”

SJWCFC, an independent non-profit organization has several health centers in Los Angeles’ inner-cities, providing health services to many minorities. Over the past several months, the organization has signed up about 10,000 people into health insurance programs, such as expanded Medicaid. A portion of the health center’s enrollments include Covered California, Mangia said.

Covered California’s final enrollment totals are expected after the April 15 enrollment extended enrollment period ends.

“After the dust settles on this open enrollment period, Covered California will hold regional meetings with grantees and stakeholders to assess the challenges and successes of this year’s outreach campaigns. The feedback will be used to shape campaigns and plan marketing and outreach efforts in future years,” said Anne Gonzales, a spokeswoman for Covered California.

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