My Visit to Inland Empire’s CHI’s Legislative Forum and Latino Enrollment Issues

by Maria Romero-Mora, CCHI Program Coordinator

As a CCHI Program Coordinator I travel all over California to visit the far reaches of CCHI’s statewide network of outreach and enrollment organizations. Recently, I was able to join Inland Empire Children’s Health Initiative (IE CHI) for their second annual Legislative Forum – an event that brings community partners together to sit down and talk directly with their legislators. The forum focused on children’s health coverage in the Inland Empire region, sharing on-the-ground experiences and information with Senator Norma J. Torres, Assemblymember Cheryl Brown and Assemblymember Mike Morrell.

The reality for local communities of San Bernardino and Riverside – the fourth and fifth most populous counties in the state – is that 1 in 4 individuals lack health coverage. Those in attendance at the legislative forum are familiar in a very personal way with this statistic as the community they serve is also the community they live in. In particular, they help Latino families every day overcome the many barriers to enrollment such as limited English skills, the lack of one-on-one help outside of traditional work hours, lack of familiarity with online enrollment, etc.

Senator Torres clearly heard attendees concerns and recently spoke on behalf of the Latino Caucus at the January 23rd Covered California Board meeting, saying,

“In my district, call after call comes into my office from residents who want to know, ‘How do I sign up for coverage? Where can I get help enrolling?’ Many of these calls are from Spanish speakers. So logically, I have asked, and we as a Caucus have asked, what are the barriers to enrollment? Based on the evidence we’ve seen, we believe the problem is not marketing or lack of awareness. We believe the problem is a lack of customer service and assistance to enroll.”

In the Inland Empire more than 20 organizations, including health plans, CBOs, United Way, First 5, school districts, hospitals and others have joined together with the Inland Empire CHI, all prepared to use their existing relationships and knowledge of their communities to help Latino families enroll in health coverage. Many groups at the forum expressed frustration with the process of becoming a Certified Enrollment Entity (CEE) and Certified Enrollment Counselor (CEC); the application process itself is complex and difficult and the requirements, including background checks and fingerprinting, as well as carrying liability insurance, are barriers for many. While Covered California is working to streamline the process, and improvements have been made, the number of CEEs and CECs currently certified are not able to meet the demand for one-on-one assistance from the Latino Community.

We know, as Senator Torres stated recently, “Latinos are the youngest and healthiest demographic and make up about half of the market’s target enrollees.” For health reform to be successful we need to get California’s Latinos enrolled.

My visit to the Inland Empire CHI’s Legislative Forum was instructive and recent enrollment figures from Covered California indicate an upward trend with more Latinos enrolling. In large part this is due to organizations like CCHI’s members whose deep community connections are like long roots, grown through years of helping kids and families access programs that keep them healthy and safe. But there is still much more that could be done and supporting our trusted network of enrollment organizations is key to the success we are seeking for all Californians. We are on our way to forging the path to success.