Challenges for Spanish-speakers in signing up for healthcare

Wednesday, March 26, 2014
Meriden Record-Journal
Meriden, CT

With the deadline to enroll under the Affordable Care Act fast approaching, the state’s health exchange is reaching out to Latinos and Spanish-speaking residents to make sure those who want insurance sign up in time.

The deadline for open enrollment is Monday. The next open enrollment won’t begin for another year. As of last month, Access Health CT had enrolled 121,983 individuals, surpassing its goal of 100,000, according to a statement from the organization.

But the Spanish-speaking community faces unique challenges in signing up including cultural barriers, lack of information and financial limitations, officials say.

In New Haven County, there are 129,743 Hispanic or Latino residents, according to the 2010 U.S. Census. Census data show that 28.9 percent of Meriden residents are Latino and 14.3 percent of Wallingford residents are Latino. The Connecticut Mirror reports that Latinos “make up 25 percent to 30 percent of the uninsured in Connecticut but only 14 percent of the state’s population ...”

To offer assistance during the enrollment period, Access Health CT trained numerous “navigators,” who oversee the activities of librarians, in-person assisters and brokers — individuals trained to help enroll residents.

The New Haven Health Department is the navigator for New Haven County, which includes Meriden, Wallingford and Cheshire. The Hispanic Health Council is the navigator for Hartford Country, which includes Southington.

Lizandra Meijas-Salinas is one of those in-person assisters. She is also the client services specialist at the Spanish Community of Wallingford. SCOWstaff shares information with clients in person and on the organization’s Facebook profile.

“The navigators of the Access Health CT program put out fliers and mass emails,” Meijas-Salinas said Tuesday. “We also have an assister assigned strictly for marketing, basically. She puts up fliers in all the local businesses.”

That assister is Yamilka Cruz, who works with New Opportunities Inc. in Meriden, targeting Meriden and Wallingford.

While the Spanish-speaking community may know about the Affordable Care Act, Meijas-Salinas said, many don’t know how to enroll.

One of the many factors affecting the Latino community is a fear of being deported if they provide the government with information.

“They don’t know if they have a legal status they can apply, regardless of the time they have been here,” Cruz said. “As long as they have any type of visa ... they can apply.”

“Some are cautious because it’s fairly new,” Meijas-Salinas said. “But those enrolled are spreading the word ... Word of mouth is just easing people’s fears.” Cruz recently participated in an interview on a Spanish radio station.

“Different assisters are doing what I did and have been going to different radio stations to spread the word,” Cruz said.

Meijas-Salinas said in-person assisters receive laptops issued by the government, which are used to help fill out the application for a Spanish-speaking resident.

“That’s really a good way to help those who don’t know how to navigate or deal with computers at all,” she said.

Access Health CT also launched a Spanish website on Feb. 24. Even if an individual doesn’t have access to a computer, they can enroll through call centers, Meijas-Salinas said.

Access Health CT call center representatives speak 15 different languages and can provide assistance in 100 languages through translators. In addition, navigators and in-person assisters can help with 30 different languages.

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