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Latino Engagement Needed to Boost California Exchange, Officials Say

By Kerry Young, Associate CQ HealthBeat Editor

January 22, 2014 -- More than 625,000 people have enrolled so far in insurance through California's health exchange, a figure that state officials intend to boost in the months ahead partly by reaching out more to Latinos.

"We're in the process of both fine-tuning the way we assess our enrollment demographics and, more importantly, building on our focus to ensure that more Latinos apply for and enroll in coverage," said Peter V. Lee, the executive director of Covered California, as the exchange is called.

"We have much work to do over the next three months to build on our outreach to this important population and help those who have applied complete the process."

Last week Lee released the enrollment figures as of Jan. 15, and discussed during a press briefing the strategy for attracting more people to participate in the exchange. The Fresno Bee then chided Covered California for what it called stumbles in the effort to reach out to Latinos, who are key to the success of the exchange.

"As a group, Latinos are younger and healthier than the general population. The state needs Latino enrollment to make the new insurance pool work as intended, with a mix of old and young, healthy and sick people," the paper said in an editorial.

The newspaper stressed the need for finding ways to connect with prospective customers of the exchange, even beyond recent efforts to move ahead with a Spanish-language website and advertising. These are "no substitutes for addressing the real issue, which is to connect with target communities in person," the paper said.

"Word of mouth from trusted sources matters more than ads, especially among people who never have had insurance and don't use the Internet," the editorial said.

Lee said that Covered California has designed bilingual ads to remind enrollees to pay their premiums, a reminder needed for all would-be participants in health plans arranged through the exchange.

"The level of interest is impressive, but consumers now need to take that crucial step of paying their plan so their health coverage can take effect," Lee said.

Anthem Blue Cross of California, Blue Shield of California, Kaiser Permanente, and Health Net were the plans most frequently picked, accounting for almost 96 percent of total enrollment.

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