This post was written by Kathy Ko Chin, president of the Asian & Pacific Islander Health Forum, and originally appeared in the Huffington Post. We are well into the second open enrollment period, and the numbers are telling: nearly 7.3 million people have enrolled in coverage in the federal health insurance marketplace. Ten million people have gained coverage since the first open enrollment period, including hundreds of thousands of Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians, and Pacific Islanders (AAs and NHPIs). Thanks to the Affordable Care Act’s (ACA) coverage gains, the nation’s uninsured rate is now at near-record lows.
Much of this work has been due to the tireless efforts of community groups and enrollment assisters who are providing on-the-ground support to get eligible people enrolled. As a strong supporter of the ACA, my organization banded together with other dedicated national groups and over 70 community organizations and federal health centers to form Action for Health Justice (AHJ). AHJ is dedicated to reaching out to the nation’s fastest-growing groups — Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians, and Pacific Islanders — to ensure they know about their coverage options and are able to enroll. It is because of the tireless efforts of groups like AHJ that AAs and NHPIs are realizing the dream of healthier futures and getting covered.
Without dedicated outreach, AAs and NHPIs and other hard-to-reach communities would be left in the dark. AAs and NHPIs span more than 50 different ethnic groups and speak more than 100 different languages. As a result, their insurance needs and knowledge about their coverage options are just as varied and diverse. Coupled with that, language barriers have created major challenges for many non-English speakers trying to enroll.
One in three Asian Americans either do not speak English at all or not very well. Language barriers are known to impede both access to health insurance and health care. My organization, the Asian & Pacific Islander American Health Forum, worked with 14 community-based organizations covering 16 states during the first enrollment period. When we surveyed over 6,700 clients who sought enrollment services at these community-based organizations, one thing stuck out: language barriers and being uninsured go hand in hand.
Among those who were uninsured, 87 percent of the individuals surveyed spoke a language other than English. Not surprisingly then, being able to get information that was easy to understand and in a person’s primary spoken language was one of the deciding factors in getting covered.
Three-quarters of the people we surveyed got help filling out the marketplace application. For example, one group in Illinois relied on their bilingual staff to develop educational materials about the Marketplace in Bosnian, Hindi, and Urdu. Others like SEAMAAC in Philadelphia are building on their 30 years of experience working with immigrant and refugee communities and using their uniquely trained staff, many of whom are members of the communities they work with, to spread the word about the ACA.
This work has paid off. Victoria Nguyen, a Vietnamese American from Phoenix, Arizona had been driving all the way to Orange Grove, California to access prenatal care before the Asian Pacific Community in Action (APCA) stepped in. Since Victoria was uninsured, this was the only care she could afford. APCA walked Victoria through the Marketplace application and provided one-on-one assistance in Vietnamese until she got covered. Without APCA, Victoria might still be making the long drives for essential care.
Victoria is just one of the many others who would never have gotten covered, let alone known about the ACA, were it not for the dedicated efforts of community partners and enrollment assisters. As we celebrate National Asian American and Pacific Islander Enrollment Week, let’s give thanks to the groups working around the country to make health care a reality.