California Healthline Daily Edition

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

Covered California’s Low Hispanic Enrollment Draws Criticism

State lawmakers are expressing concern after seeing low enrollment numbers in Covered California among the state's Hispanic population, a group that was thought to be one of the most promising demographics  to enroll in coverage through the Affordable Care Act, the Los Angeles Times reports (Terhune/Brown, Los Angeles Times, 12/13).

Background on Hispanic Enrollment

About 159,000 people have signed up for health coverage through Covered California, according to data released by the exchange last week.

According to the data:

  • 53,000 white individuals signed up for coverage;
  • 18,000 Asians signed up;
  • 14,000 Latinos signed up; and
  • 3,000 blacks signed up.

Only 5% of those enrolled primarily speak Spanish, even though that group represents 29% of the state's total population (California Healthline, 12/13).

Reasons for Low Enrollment Among Hispanics

Exchange officials have offered several reasons for low enrollment among Hispanics, including:

  • A shortage of Spanish-speaking enrollment counselors; and
  • A lack of paper applications in Spanish.

State Lawmakers, Advocates React to Low Hispanic Enrollment

State Sen. Norma Torres (D-Pomona) said, "It is unacceptable that Latinos are getting the least amount of access to the benefits offered by the [ACA]," adding that the state's implementation strategy "has not proven itself to be effective" (Los Angeles Times, 12/13).

Torres also said that ACA promotional funding is not being used effectively (Somashekhar, Washington Post, 12/14).

In addition, state Sen. Ed Hernandez (D-West Covina) said, "These enrollment numbers aren't even close to where they need to be," adding, "The state of California has to fix that" (Los Angeles Times, 12/13).

Gabriel Sanchez -- head of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Center for Health Policy at the University of New Mexico -- called the low Hispanic enrollment figures "dire" and said they could be a "red flag" for national figures.

He said, "California was supposed to be out in front of the pack on marketing efforts targeting Latinos" (Washington Post, 12/14).

State, White House Response

Santiago Lucero -- a spokesperson for Covered California- - said such problems already are being addressed. In addition, Lucero noted that enrollment figures for the demographic in November were better than October.

He said, "We are doing everything within our power to increase the number of Latinos enrolling, and we know we will get there" (Los Angeles Times, 12/13).

Meanwhile, the Obama administration noted that individuals have until March 31 to purchase coverage and that December enrollment is expected to be the highest since the exchanges launched on Oct. 1.

In addition, the administration has said it plans to begin amping up its ACA promotion to Hispanics in January 2014.

Katherine Vargas -- a White House spokesperson -- said, "Our expectation was always that the number of enrollees, including Latino consumers, would be low in the first months, but we expect enrollment to increase over time" (Washington Post, 12/14).

Few Middle- and Upper-Income Sign-Ups

In related news, Covered California said only 14% of those who bought health insurance in the first two months of open enrollment earned too much for a federal subsidy.

However, exchange officials have said they are not worried because it still is early in the sign-up process. According to KPCC's "KPCC News," an independent analysis said those with middle- and upper-incomes are enrolling more slowly (Florido, "KPCC News," KPCC, 12/13).

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