New insurance options may help get more immigrants insured

New insurance options may help get more immigrants insured

January 14, 2016

 For seven years, Ariana Bartolon Bravo of Penn Yan, a seasonal farmworker from Chiapas, Mexico, thought twice about going to the doctor after she was to old to be covered by Child Health Plus health insurance.

“Doctors want people to have insurance,” she said. “If you don’t have it, you have to pay cash.”

Yet for immigrants like Bartolon Bravo, there are new affordable options for health insurance, said advocates Jan. 13 during a webinar for media and organizations that help the uninsured and underinsured.

The webinar was presented by Children’s Defense Fund – NY, Coordinated Care Services Inc., Finger Lakes Community Health, Finger Lakes Health Systems Agency, Health Care for All NY Coalition and was supported by a grant from the Atlantic Philanthropies. A recording is available at http://bit.ly/1P191Fi .

“Today we are recognizing the great strides that New York State has made in building a marketplace that offers an array of products to health insurance consumers and that has deep inroads in local communities through assistors,” said Andrew Leonard, senior policy associate for health, housing and income security for the Children’s Defense Fund – New York.

The new Essential Plan - a basic health plan for lower-income people who meet residency requirements that is available on the Ne w York Sate of Health insurance plan marketplace - was one of the options that was highlighted during the webinar.  Other options include Medicaid, which is open to adults if they meet income and residency guidelines, and Child Health Plus, which is open to children younger than 19, regardless of immigration status. Undocumented adults may still purchase insurance through insurers or pre-register for Emergency Medicaid. Undocumented pregnant women may also be eligible for Medicaid.

Although the New York State of Health Marketplace open enrollment ends Jan. 31, enrollment in the Essential Plan, Medicaid and Child Health Plus is open yearlong. But consumers should act soon, because there are increased tax penalties in 2016 for people who do not have insurance. Enroll by Jan. 15 to be covered by Feb. 1.

Although New York has made strides in insuring nearly all New Yorkers, immigrants have lagged behind their peers in obtaining insurance, advocates said during the webinar.

While the uninsured rate statewide rests at 8.7 percent, Latinos have high rates of being uninsured – 17 percent statewide. In Rochester and Syracuse, for instance, the rates of uninsured Hispanics and Latinos of all races are 10.2 and 11.9 percent, respectively. Advocates also noted other immigrant populations have lower rates of being insured, such as the 1,300 uninsured Asians in Utica who comprise 15.9 percent of the Asian population in a city that is home to many Burmese, Vietnamese and Cambodian immigrants.

“Despite progress in reducing rates of the uninsured in New York State, it is clear that racial and ethnic disparities remain,” said Lorraine Gonzalez-Camastra, Director of Health Policy at the Children’s Defense Fund-New York. “We need advocates and community organizations to share coverage options of the Affordable Care Act with people who struggle to understand English.”

Nancy Shelton of Coordinated Care Services Inc. gave an overview of successful outreach to marginalized communities: It needs to be done in plain language at a simple level and also offered in the native languages of members of the community, if possible.

“Consumers will be able to better manage their health if they are successfully engaged through culturally appropriate outreach,” Shelton said.

To help ensure consumers are able to stay healthy, communities need to seek solutions that address all the social determinants of health, said Wade Norwood, chief strategy officer for Finger Lakes Health Systems Agency.

“If we want health improvement we need to engage all areas of policy and program that impact life and livelihood,” he said.

Bartolon Bravo said having insurance has made a big difference in her health. After enrolling a plan on the state's marketplace with the help of Finger Lakes Community Health, Bartolon Bravo was able to go to the doctor, dentist and pharmacy without worrying about how she would pay for the visits.

“I feel healthier, and I have not missed time from work due to being sick,” she said. “I now go to my doctors on a regular basis and not just when it’s an emergency or when I am very sick.”