Encouraging Latinos to get health coverage
Maria Farias has been without health insurance since 2011, when her husband lost his job. The Port Richmond resident, who is from Paraguay, relies on a public health center, where she pays $10 to see a doctor, because she doesn't think she can afford nearly $300 a month for insurance.
Maria Farias has been without health insurance since 2011, when her husband lost his job.
The Port Richmond resident, who is from Paraguay, relies on a public health center, where she pays $10 to see a doctor, because she doesn't think she can afford nearly $300 a month for insurance.
"I'm still thinking about how I can get health insurance," Farias, 45, said Sunday at a festival celebrating the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, a major event for Latino Catholics.
"I'm just afraid it's not going to be as affordable as they say," Farias said.
Farias is among thousand of Latinos in Philadelphia who don't have health insurance. The uninsured rate for Latinos is the highest in the city: 16 percent, compared with 12 percent overall.
The festival that Farias attended at St. Peter the Apostle Church at Girard Avenue and North Fifth Street was one of at least two events in Philadelphia on Sunday trying to bring down that high rate, which experts attribute to language difficulties, cultural differences, and financial reasons.
Further north on Fifth Street, in the city's Feltonville neighborhood, nonprofit groups were at Esperanza College to help Spanish speakers enroll for health insurance in the federal online marketplace.
Tuesday is the deadline for coverage that starts Jan. 1. Enrollment continues through January for coverage that starts later.
Skilled outreach by activists who understand differences in Latinos communities is key to getting Latinos to buy health insurance, said Kevin Counihan, the chief executive of the federal Health Insurance Marketplace.
"It's not a monolithic group. In many parts of the country, you can have 16 different types of Hispanic communities, and half of them don't talk to each other," said Counihan, who on Sunday visited two Philadelphia churches where pastors were encouraging people to sign up for health insurance.
After speaking with brokers after church at Yesha Ministries in South Philadelphia, Counihan met at Esperanza with Spanish speakers who are on the front lines helping people sign up for insurance to get ideas about how to improve the process.
Making it simpler is key.
Pedro Rodriquez, an organizer for Enroll America, a nonprofit helping with enrollment, said Sunday at Esperanza that Latinos want to know up front how much something is going to cost.
But with health insurance, there's no simple answer to that, he said, because the premium is different for every person, not to mention the wide range of deductibles, coinsurance, and co-pays.
To help alleviate the lack of clarity on cost, federal regulators on Friday introduced an online out-of-pocket-cost calculator.
"The purpose of that tool is to allow people to get an estimate - based on the metal tier that they are looking at - what their overall cost of coverage would be," Counihan said, referring to the platinum, gold, silver, and bronze pricing structure.
The festival at St. Peter the Apostle, which included a mariachi band and Paraguayan dancers, was sponsored by Independence Blue Cross, the region's largest health insurer.
As part of a push to reach the Latino community, Independence increased the number of Spanish-speaking agents it employs to 20 this year, up from five last year, said Paula Sunshine, vice president of Independence's consumer business.
The goal of Independence's presence at the festival was raise its profile in the Spanish-speaking community, Sunshine said. "We don't expect people to be ready to buy insurance today," she said.
In addition to Catholic parishes, the company also has been active at supermarkets that cater to the Latino community.
Jesus Hernandez, 54, of South Philadelphia, welcomed the chance to speak with an Independence representative. He lost his job as an installer of marble and granite kitchen countertops in September.
Hernandez said he is healthy, but still wants to know if Independence can help him get insurance.
"They will give me a call Monday and we'll see what happens," he said.