Health Care Navigators Work Hard to Get Latinos Covered

Health Care Navigator, Maria Jimenez, has been working diligently to sign up Floridians.
Health Care Navigator, Maria Jimenez, has been working diligently to sign up Floridians for health care.

It has been a long six months since the Affordable Care Act healthcare exchanges opened back in October. During the open enrollment period, there were early setbacks that made enrolling difficult, including website issues for both English and Spanish speakers. It was a frustrating time for many who tried to log on in the beginning, but the government addressed the issues with the websites as quickly as they could. And, the work has paid off. In the past six months, six million people have managed to make it through the process of getting insurance, a goal the White House set and reached.

Most of those who have signed up so far used one of the two most common methods for enrolling: the website and the telephone. But there is a third option that has not received nearly as much media attention or criticism, the Health Care Navigator option. Health Care Navigators each go through a certification process that prepares them to walk anyone who wants through the process. It is more labor intensive, but for the Latino community, the Navigator option has shown to be the preferred method for getting coverage.

This has certainly been the case in Florida. The Sunshine State is home to one of the country’s largest Latino populations, making it a hotspot for signing folks up, many of them for the first time.

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Hispanic Services Council (HSC), an NCLR Affiliate, is one of the organizations working to engage Florida’s Latino community with health care navigators. These dedicated professionals are definitely busy, often working well into the evening in most instances. On average, navigators can enroll up to 60 people a month, according to Maria Jimenez, a navigator with HSC.

“It really depends on the community. I’m working every weekend and I have appointments back-to-back, sometimes working late at night,” said Jimenez, who says she became a navigator out of a desire to help her friends and neighbors. “We have a real need for this work in our community,” she said.

Jimenez’s work has indeed been helpful since she can sometimes answer client questions more effectively than the website, she said.  In fact, many of the people Jimenez has signed up are getting coverage for the very first time.

“They [Latinos] like face-to-face contact. They like someone they can see so they know what is exactly going on,” said Jimenez. “They chose Hispanic Services Council because we’ve been in the community a long time. They know if they come to us, we’ll have assistance for them. “

That face-to-face contact has been vital, according to Jimenez, especially since so many have never had insurance before. Many of the questions she is asked have to do with basic understanding of how insurance coverage works in general. Jimenez often spends a lot of time talking and educating clients about things like co-pays, deductibles, and premiums. For someone who has never had insurance, these can be daunting and confusing ideas to process.

Many of the folks Jimenez has signed up also work during the day, so being able to sit with an actual person and ask these questions at night has been especially important for them.  And, it can be a lengthy process, sometimes lasting as long as 3 hours.

Still, Jimenez says the time spent educating her community has been well worth it. Many of the people she has signed up are surprised by just how much is covered.  One of Jimenez’s clients included a 19 year-old student who was skeptical about signing up. After some convincing, she was able to get him to take a closer look.

“He was really excited to learn he could afford it,” said Jimenez. “He was shocked when he found out that he could get dental and medical for about $30. It’s something that really makes me feel good about what I’m doing.”

Jimenez will continue working to sign up as many as possible before the March 31 deadline and encourages those who do choose to see a navigator to be prepared when they arrive. One needs proof of income, proof of status and information about the household, such as who is applying and who already has insurance. She’s looking forward to the end of the enrollment process, and more free time, but she is looking forward even more to the time when her whole community is covered.

“It’s really about personal responsibility,” said Jimenez. “If you’re healthy, it’s important to keep yourself healthy.”

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