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Selling Obamacare to California's Immigrant Communities

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Mina Kim, KQED’s health reporter for the California Report, covered this important issue for ESL communities. She poses the question: “In a state as diverse as California, what will it take to sell Obamacare to ethnic communities where English is a second language?” TCR, Jun 24, 2013

The concern is how to spread the word about health reform and reach communities that will be required to have health insurance next year or pay a fine, and crucially how to explain the benefits of health coverage. Covered California– the state’s insurance market — plans to spend millions advertising its wares, but as Mina Kim reports:

“Nearly one in five Vietnamese Americans in California is uninsured, and more than half aren’t proficient in English. Researchers at UC Berkeley and UCLA estimate 110,000 eligible Californians will miss out on health reform because of language barriers.”


It seems Covered California’s online insurance application will only be available in English and Spanish which will make it harder for many ethnic communities to apply.

Mina Kim talks to Mai-Phuong Nguyen, a primary care doctor in Orange County’s Little Saigon neighborhood, who describes the confusion and suspicion these communities feel.

“A lot of ethnic communities have great hesitancy to be accepted as part of the mainstream because our collective experience is that we’ve always been in the margins, so we’ve gotten used to being in the margins and so ACA [Affordable Health Care Act] is different in that it’s saying we do care about you, bring you to the table.” Mai-Phuong Nguyen

The California Report describes a huge outreach effort in downtown Los Angeles, headed up by Doreena Wong at the Asian Pacific American Legal Center:

“Wong is leading an effort to get the state’s Asian populations aware of a key piece of health reform: the state-run insurance marketplace Covered California.……..  Wong will use a one million dollar grant to educate communities from Sacramentoto San Diegoon Covered California’s health plan options and available tax credits. She’ll work with 21 community groups to fan out in dozens of neighborhoods including Chinese, Indian, Thai, Pakistani, and Samoan. In Vietnamese enclaves they’ll visit nail salons and beauty schools. In Korean communities, churches will be key. In many cases, Wong says, outreach workers will need to teach people what a premium and a co-payment is.”

 A lot of our community are immigrants, and so that means that they’re not familiar with our health care system, I mean it’s crazy enough for us to navigate our system when we grew up with it, but for somebody coming over from another country. They don’t understand, ‘what is a managed care plan?’, ‘why do I have to get permission to go see a doctor?Doreena Wong

Mina Kim’s report gives a real sense of the huge challenge facing outreach workers, health workers and educators working to secure health benefits for immigrant communities in the coming months.


The Califorina Report segment Selling Obamacare to California’s Immigrant Communities – 6/24/2013

KQED’s State of Health post Advocates Prepare for Confusion and Resistance to Obamacare Among Asians – 6/24/2013

KQED Education resources KQED Education Health Resources for ESL Educators

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