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Report: State Exchange Could Do More for Asian/Pacific Islander Population

national report released this week on the disparities in enrollment at state exchanges of Asian and Pacific Islander populations includes a series of recommendations that apply to Covered California’s outreach and enrollment efforts, according to advocates.

Four Asian/Pacific Islander advocacy groups issued the report Wednesday. According to Doreena Wong, project director at one of the groups, Asian Americans Advancing Justice based in Los Angeles, all the lessons learned nationally during the first open enrollment session can apply to California’s effort.

The second open enrollment period begins Nov. 15.  

“I commend Covered California for recognizing the diversity of the state and the need for targeted outreach to different communities of color. They have not ignored our community, in terms of committing resources,” Wong said.

“However, at the same time,” she said, “there is nothing in this report that doesn’t apply to California.”

Covered California had higher-than-expected enrollment from the Asian community — but “Asian” is such a broad term that the exchange’s success may be a little misleading, Wong said.

“The apparent success masks the gaps in our community,” Wong said. “We had large numbers of Chinese, Korean and Vietnamese sign up, but if you look at other groups, like the Cambodian or Hmong communities, it’s very, very low.”

Covered California officials earlier this month announced plans to spend an additional $14.6 million this year on outreach through community organizations. That’s a step in the right direction, but it’s a relatively small step, Wong said.

“I see what they’re spending on television advertising,” Wong said, referring to $46 million earmarked at Covered California for radio, television and social media advertising. “But where more money could go is to the community assisters, because in-person assistance is the most effective way to reach [communities of color]. I’d like them to commit more than the $14 million they’re providing. For our communities, not just Asian and Pacific Islander but also the Latino and African American communities, information going out through trusted messengers is the most effective strategy.”

Wong said the state could provide written material in more languages, and provide more assisters at the service centers who speak other languages.

“I’d say we still have issues. The website is in English and Spanish only. None of the notices they send out are in languages other than English and Spanish,” Wong said.

She pointed out that Covered California’s enrollment application asks applicants what language they are most comfortable with, “and you would hope they would provide a response letter in that language, and it’s not,” Wong said.

“California says it’s doing things, but they’re not there yet,” she said.

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