By January 1, 2014, 13 million people of color, including many immigrants, will be able to get health coverage through the new Insurance Exchanges, or Marketplaces. But it is still “insanely confusing” to navigate the complex health insurance system. Many, especially those who will be insured for the first time and who don’t speak English at home, will rely on one-on-one assistance to enroll, choose the right health insurance plan, and maintain new insurance coverage. It will require the strong involvement of organizations serving people of color, immigrants and hard-to-reach populations to ensure these populations take full advantage of coverage benefits. In Massachusetts, community-based organizations were a key part of achieving the state’s 97 percent insurance coverage rate.

Your involvement matters! To promote robust outreach programs targeting people of color and immigrants, you can be involved in a number of ways:

  • Partner with other community or state -based organizations. Identify other community-based organizations and consumer health advocates who are already engaged in connecting people to insurance coverage to develop partnerships, share resources, and facilitate a broader outreach effort. Email us if you need help with connections.
  • Be part of the Navigator programs. The Affordable Care Act requires Exchanges to develop culturally and linguistically competent Navigator programs to help people to understand and choose insurance coverage. Be on the outlook for calls for proposals from your state if it plans to run its own Exchange or from Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) if your state has a Federal or Partnership Exchange.
  • Become an Assister (In-Person Assistance). Assisters, funded through Exchange Establishment grants, will fill in where needed. Assisters will support people looking for coverage through education and health literacy efforts. All states that run their own exchanges can apply for federal funds and develop an assister program. However, not every state will take this opportunity. Check with your state officials to see if your state is applying for this grant.

In addition, here are some tips for launching an effective outreach and enrollment campaign:

  • Conduct outreach and education activities in locations the people you want to reach visit frequently such as schools, food pantries, religious institutions, beauty salons, day care centers, civic clubs, and ethnic restaurants and grocery stores carrying ethnic products. Contact ethnic radio and television channels, as well, to reach a broader audience.
  • Tailor outreach messages and materials so they resonate with specific communities to clearly explain how marketplaces will directly impact their health concerns. Materials should be simple and culturally and linguistically appropriate.
  • Provide on-going assistance during and beyond the open enrollment period to help newly insured people find providers and navigate the complex health care system, as well as help with renewal at yearly intervals.

Get involved now if you haven’t been part of your state outreach and enrollment effort! Check herefor more tips.

– Quynh Chi Nguyen, Program and Policy Associate