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As Feds Enjoy Huge Boost in Obamacare Signups, California Sees Lag in Black Enrollment

Few African Americans have signed up for health coverageWhy haven’t more African-Americans in California signed up for Obamacare?

That’s the question California officials are trying to answer as they face today’s Obamacare enrollment deadline with a significant under-representation of African-Americans. White House officials have hailed the flood of last-minute sign-ups nationally—2.9 million people visited the website over the weekend and more than 8.7 million visits over the last week—possibly bringing the total enrollment close to the 7 million that the White House initially projected before the glitches with the website launch in October. Even more good news for the administration: it appears that a large percentage of the last-minute sign-ups are young people, a population desperately needed to make the economics of Obamacare feasible.

As expected, all this Obamacare success is driving Republicans loony.

“I think they’re cooking the books on this,” Senator John Barrasso, a Wyoming Republican, said in an appearance yesterday on “Fox News Sunday,” without providing evidence to substantiate his comment. “What kind of insurance will those people actually have? Will they be able to keep the doctor that they want? How much more is it going to cost them?”

Perhaps Barrasso will take solace in the fact that Obamacare is not reaching many of the populations that most need it, such as African-Americans, in California.

Though African-Americans constitute about 7 percent of the California population and 17 percent of the African-Americans in California are uninsured, fewer than 3 percent of the enrollees in the health plan identify themselves as African American—and that number hasn’t budged in weeks, according to a report in the Los Angeles Times.

Up to now, the state has been paying more attention to uninsured Latinos, expending resources to reach them—with some success, as the multimillion-dollar marketing blitz has led to an increase in the pace of Latino sign-ups in recent weeks.

“The improving Latino numbers warm my heart,” Robert Ross, a Covered California board member and chief executive of the California Endowment, told the Los Angeles Times. “The African American numbers are really disappointing and disturbing.”

Just as the Obama administration announced that it will extend the March 31 deadline for people who had started the signup by the end of today, California said it will give residents until April 15 to finish their application if they start it before midnight Monday.

Covered California has handed out grant money to numerous nonprofit groups and community organizations active in the African-American community for education and enrollment efforts, taking such action as opening a mall kiosk for consumers in a predominantly African-American area of Los Angeles in November. But the results have been disappointing, as African-Americans are drastically underrepresented among the more than 1 million Californians who had picked a health plan through the state exchange as of mid-March.

“It’s not easy,” said Dr. Brownell Payne, a physician who works with Crenshaw Health Partners, a state-certified enrollment group. The exchange “has done a masterful job in terms of encouraging the outreach educators to go to the right spots, but the numbers of people to reach are huge.”

Health plans, insurance agents and nonprofit groups are engaged in a final push to boost enrollment among African-Americans, using churches, schools and local radio to increase outreach.

But Carla Singleton, a marketing manager for L.A. Care, told the Times that the efforts have not been enough.

“From Covered California all the way down, there just hasn’t been a lot of outreach” in African-American neighborhoods, she said.

“When we think about what this law means for our community,” said Etoy Ridgnal, director of African-American engagement for Enroll America, “it really can be the difference between life and death.”


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