California Latinos Closing Gap in Health Coverage

image002SAN FRANCISCO – After the end of the second open enrollment period in health insurance under the Affordable Care Act (ACA), enrollment rates between Latinos and whites are not that different, according to a study out this week.

Eligible Latinos (74 percent) are now enrolling at similar rates to whites (79 percent), according to a study by the non-partisan Kaiser Family Foundation.

This stands in stark contrast to 2013, when Latinos in California were half as likely as whites to have health insurance. Latinos represent 41 percent of California’s population, but represent 57 percent of its uninsured population.

“We are encouraged by these findings, which show California’s continuing leadership in the successful implementation of the Affordable Care Act,” said Daniel Zingale, senior vice president of The California Endowment, a private statewide health foundation. “But the survey results also demonstrate the work we still need to do, to make sure the remaining uninsured get the access they need to affordable, quality health care.”

The Kaiser Family Foundation followed more than 1,100 uninsured Californians from September 2013 through the first two coverage enrollment periods, the second of which ended in February.

About two-thirds of Californians who were uninsured in 2013 now have health insurance, according to the study. That represents a 58 percent increase from the end of the first open enrollment period in spring 2014.

The ACA has significantly increased the number of people with health insurance in three main ways: the state’s online marketplace Covered California, Medi-Cal (California’s Medicaid, the insurance program for low-income people), and employer-sponsored insurance.

Yet according to the foundation, the prospects of bringing more uninsured into the insured pool are not very bright.

That’s because those who remain without coverage are a harder to reach group, observed Mollyann Brodie, the Kaiser Family Foundation’s senior vice president and executive director for public opinion and survey research. She said many of them are eligible but “they haven’t been attached to a health insurance option for a long time.”

But there are also about 1 million more residents of California, many of them Latino, who are uninsured because they are undocumented. The ACA bars undocumented immigrants from buying federally subsidized health insurance on the exchange or getting covered through Medi-Cal. In an effort to cover these so-called “remaining uninsured,” Sen. Ricardo Lara, D-Bell Gardens, introduced the Health for All bill that is currently making its way through the legislature.

The Kaiser Family Foundation survey is the third in a series to examine the status of health coverage in California.

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