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With Black Community Awareness of Obamacare Benefits Falling Short of Expectations

McKenzie Jackson, California Black Media

McKenzie Jackson, California Black Media

California advocates and consumers urge renewed effort and focus

By McKenzie Jackson, California Black Media

Last May, Covered California, the state’s health insurance marketplace,  announced the awarding of $37 million in grants that would flow to a total of nearly 300 organizations, all working to conduct outreach and develop tailored education plans about affordable health care coverage available through the state exchange.

Targeting a total of 9 million Californians, 32 grants were said to be focused on African-American outreach, compared to 37 targeting Latinos. Twenty-seven grants were focused on Caucasian outreach and education, with 20 aimed at the Asian-Pacific Islander community.

These efforts are widely perceived to have been in good faith. But with so few African-Americans enrolled in Obamacare benefits through the state exchange questions linger about the effectiveness of the outreach. As of last month, only about 11,000 blacks were on the Covered California rolls, representing about 3.1 percent of enrollees, despite numbering seven percent of the state’s total population..

“We definitely need to increase the outreach to African-Americans,” said Karen D. Lincoln, a professor of social work at the University of Southern California and founder of the organization Advocates for African-American Elders. “I think the fact that the primary method of enrollment is via the Internet, there is a large segment of our population who cannot enroll. Now, among the general population of African-Americans, there is certainly more use of social media, but access can be a problem.

Advocates are now stepping in to help boost the effectiveness of the outreach. For example, The California Endowment, in partnership with DHCS, has launched a $23 million statewide effort to boost Medi-Cal enrollment in 36 counties across the state.

Considering the numbers, those efforts appear to be worthwhile. According to Covered California, as of 2013 there were 8.5 million Californians enrolled in Medi-Cal. Thanks to Obamacare, up to two million more residents of are expected to be eligible this year, with a significant percentage of those potential enrolleesbelieved to be African-American.

Thomas Duncan, CEO of Trusted Health Plan, a Washington D.C.-based managed healthcare organization, argues that African-Americans are poised to be among the chief benefactors of the healthcare law. In an article entitled “African-Americans will benefit greatly from Obamacare,” published February 6 in the International Business Times, Duncan wrote that a disproportionate percentage of blacks will become newly eligible for health coverage.

“Prior to the Affordable Care Act, our nation’s healthcare system was discriminatory to both lower- and middle-wage workers,” he wrote. “But now, Obamacare opens the door to preventive, primary, and strategic specialty care for millions of African-Americans and others.”

“Black people, we need that,” said Joseph Thomas, a 31-year-old Woodland Hills resident. He estimates that the Covered California plan he recently obtained online with his domestic partner would save their household about $1,200 per year. “[It’s important because] we don’t seem to go to the doctor as regularly as we should, but we always seem to have health issues and die earlier.”

To find out where you or a loved one can enroll in person go to www.coveredca.com and click on find local help.

Next week: In African-American communities statewide, churches remain the de facto town square. How are black faith organizations stepping up to encourage enrollment in affordable healthcare?

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