This year, the coronavirus pandemic has highlighted the importance of the Open Enrollment period even more than in years past. Latinos are disproportionately on the front lines of the crisis and more likely to get sick or die from COVID-19. Combined with the Trump administration’s nomination of a sixth conservative justice to the Supreme Court, there is a lot of anxiety in our community about whether health care can be taken away.
By Stephanie Presch, Content Specialist, UnidosUS
Open Enrollment and the Affordable Care Act (ACA) are still the law of the land, which means that from November 1 to December 15, families still can enroll in health coverage for the following year.
UnidosUS Affiliates—community-based organizations that serve Latinos and other Americans across the country every day—are rethinking how they enroll our community during this unpredictable year and moving ahead with the work in the best way that they can.
Hispanic Unity of Florida
“We focus on helping the community access health insurance through Medicaid, the CHIP program, and the ACA,” Eduardo Pineda, Senior Program Manager at Hispanic Unity of Florida (HUF) says, adding that HUF’s combination of education, economic development, civic engagement, and health care programs mean that they are able to take a holistic approach when assessing their clients’ needs.
“Currently, we’re already starting to take calls and make appointments for people who either need to renew or make a new application with the ACA,” Pineda explains. HUF is also working hard on putting together a marketing plan to promote the Open Enrollment period in their community. Before the pandemic, HUF was doing in-person workshops to help people learn more about how to enroll in health coverage.
“When we first started, there was a lot of marketing and commercials,” Pineda notes.
However, this is no longer the case, and Pineda notes that since Congress and the Trump administration made it no longer mandatory to have health insurance or pay a penalty, he has seen fewer enrollments during the Open Enrollment period.
Pineda added that anyone in the Hollywood, Florida, area who needs assistance filling out an Open Enrollment application in English, Creole, or Spanish can get assistance by calling (954) 964-8884.
“It’s really important to have that peace of mind,” he explains.
Project Vida Health Center
“There’s a lot of people that are scared about the political climate, as well as public charge,” Jesus Zapata, Media and Marketing Coordinator at Project Vida Health Center says. It’s important to note that even before the COVID-19 crisis began in March, the Trump administration’s public charge policy had the effect of turning mixed-status or green card families away from health care they qualified for out of fear that it would affect their immigration applications.
For now, Jesus and his colleagues have been brainstorming ways to connect with members of the community about Open Enrollment, while at the same time making sure that both their staff and community members are as safe as possible from COVID-19.
At Project Vida, they are reaching out to patients through their patient portal to tell them that Open Enrollment is coming up, as well as pushing out messages on social media encouraging people to enroll.
Jesus added that there was also a lot of misinformation about whether the ACA is still available to them, and this makes Open Enrollment even more critical this year.
“We have a big segment of our community that doesn’t have health care,” he explains, “They don’t have private insurance because it’s expensive.” Project Vida is a federally qualified community health center that operates on a sliding payment scale—but with the impact that the COVID-19 pandemic has had on Latinos, it’s incredibly important that members of the community are prepared for anything.
“We know our community needs more support than ever,” Zapata says.
Su Clínica Familiar
Open Enrollment is just one component of the work that Su Clínica Familiar, a federally qualified health center and Texas Affiliate, does in their community.
“Not only do we do the application assistance for the Affordable Care Act, we also do assistance for Medicaid, SNAP,” says Cheryl Sproles, Director of Community Outreach and Community Relations at Su Clínica Familiar.
She noted that there has been a lot of confusion surrounding the ACA, as well as a lot of anxiety from members of the community who have been calling Su Clínica. “I think people are very much afraid that this is going to be taken away from them.”
COVID-19 has also brought unique challenges with it. While in years past, the Su Clínica team would conduct outreach at community events and health fairs, this year, they haven’t been able to do the same. “We would reach thousands in the course of the month leading up to Open Enrollment just by handing out our fliers and going to different events,” says Sproles.
As a result, Su Clínica has turned to relying on calling patients who have previously enrolled in health care with them to ask if they need help re-enrolling, and have passed out fliers to those patients who have come into the office for appointments to spread the word about Open Enrollment.
Making sure that they adapt to the ever-changing environment is critical. Sproles noted that Su Clínica sees a lot of patients with diabetes or other chronic diseases, and that making sure that patients have access to health coverage is incredibly important to making sure that these families have peace of mind.
“With the situation we’re seeing right now, especially with this pandemic, it’s really brought home the need to see a doctor,” Sproles adds.
Because Texas is one of the states that never expanded Medicaid, this means that many families rely on federally qualified community health centers like Su Clínica. Due to the pandemic, many in our community have also tried to avoid going to the doctor as much as possible, meaning that by the time they did see a doctor, they were far sicker than they would have been had they made an appointment earlier.
During this unpredictable time, ensuring that our families have peace of mind when they may have lost their job or have a family member who contracted COVID-19, is incredibly important. Make sure that you and your loved ones get enrolled today by visiting healthcare.gov or cuidadodesalud.gov.