With the start of the New Year, people across the country started coverage on insurance plans selected through the Health Insurance Marketplace. For racially and ethnically diverse and LGBT older adults, the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and the Marketplace pose both the opportunity for better health and the challenge of possibly being left behind by a new program. The Diverse Elders Coalition (DEC) is now working to improve the health of the populations that it serves and to empower them to fully participate in the ACA.
A recent article by Kaiser Health News identifies some of the opportunities and challenges California’s Hispanic population face. The article highlights the tremendous help the Health Insurance Marketplace has been to Maria Garcia, who worked with a community health center to enroll herself and her husband in an insurance policy costing $36 per month after subsidies. The article also describes the need for culturally and linguistically appropriate enrollment assistance. Many Hispanic older adults enrolling in the Marketplace like to enroll with the help of a person that they trust. Health Care Navigators can also help diverse older adults overcome barriers such as lower levels of internet connected home computers and fear of putting personal information online.
Diverse populations, particularly Hispanics, are often not fully engaged and familiar with the health care system. The ACA and the Health Insurance Marketplaces have the potential to change that. In 2012, more than one-in-four Hispanics lacked health insurance. They are also less likely than non-Hispanic Whites to receive medical care due to high costs. Low rates of insurance coverage and high costs are a barrier to accessing health care. For example, from 2010 to 2011, one-in-three Hispanics lacked a usual source of health care. Barriers to the health care system make it difficult for Hispanics to access preventative care, like immunizations.
The ACA and the Health Insurance Marketplace are an opportunity to tear down the barriers to health care and to familiarize diverse populations with the health care system. In addition to providing many health insurance options, the Marketplace also provides subsidies to make insurance affordable for those with low and moderate incomes. Making insurance affordable makes preventative health care more affordable. Over time, participating in the health care system will teach people the importance of preventative care and treating small health issues before they become major complications.
The National Hispanic Council on Aging (NHCOA) and the DEC are working to educate diverse communities about the benefits of the ACA and the need to access health care on a regular basis. NHCOA is serving as a health care Navigator in Dallas, Texas and Miami, Florida. This allows NHCOA to educate people about the Health Insurance Marketplace and provide enrollment assistance. The DEC is carrying out public education campaigns about the need to enroll in health insurance coverage and recently hosted a webinar about the importance of the ACA to diverse older people.
Jason Coates is a Public Policy Associate at the National Hispanic Council on Aging (NHCOA). The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the Diverse Elders Coalition.