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More Than One Million Latinos Enrolled In Exchange or Medi-Cal in Six Months

More than one million Latinos signed up for health insurance through Covered California or Medi-Cal over the past six months, according to numbers released yesterday by state officials.

The insurance exchange yesterday released its total for its first six-month open enrollment period and the Department of Health Care Services released the number of Medi-Cal additions over that same time frame.

Almost 1.4 million signed up for the exchange, and 1.9 million newly enrolled in Medi-Cal. If an estimated 85% of exchange enrollees actually pay their premiums as expected, that would put paid exchange enrollment at more than 1.2 million Californians, according to state officials.

At yesterday’s exchange board meeting, HHS Secretary Diana Dooley summed it up:

“We had our first [exchange board] meeting three years ago in April, and what a ride it has been,” Dooley said. “I don’t know that any of us could imagine how far we’ve come and what’s been accomplished.”

Dooley said all the hard work in California “proves that the Affordable Care Act is not self-implementing,” she said.

“The work we have ahead is clearly important,” Dooley said, “but it’s also good to take a moment to say thank you for the work and success that we’ve had.”

Of the 3.3 million enrollees over the past six months, about 722,000 Latinos enrolled in Medi-Cal and more than 305,000 Latinos signed up to buy insurance through the exchange.

That’s 38% Latinos among the new enrollees in Medi-Cal, and about 28% Latinos among all exchange sign-ups.

In the exchange in particular, that’s a dramatic shift from the 18% Latino enrollment for the first three months of open enrollment.

“We’ve continued to be … more diverse in our enrollment, better reflecting the state of California,” said Peter Lee, executive director for Covered California. “That shows substantial growth in sign-ups by Latinos,” Lee said.

“We’re gratified to see the demographics improved along with the overall numbers rise,” said Anthony Wright, executive director of Health Access California. “There’s always a natural shift at work, but it’s also clearly a result of the increased focus [on reaching Latinos] as we approached the enrollment deadline.”

Wright pointed out that when the Low Income Health Program first started in California the percentage of Latinos participating was low — “around 25%,” he said. Over time the percentage rose to almost 40% — “much closer to what you’d expect to see demographically in California,” Wright said.

Lee pointed out that one of the lessons learned over the past six months is that many people need some assistance when enrolling, and that includes Latino enrollees.

“We found that 60% of enrollees [joined] through in-person enrollment,” Lee said. “Health insurance is not easy, and people need help to sign up.”

At one point, there were only 400 enrollment counselors staffing the call centers. That number burgeoned to about 5,000 assisters at the end of the first enrollment period. “And we probably needed 10,000 of them,” Wright said with a smile.

The success in improving the Latino enrollment numbers is a good start, Wright said. “This shows where we can improve and build on for next [enrollment period],” he said. “There are things we could do better.”

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