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Health & Spirit

Big gains in Latino health insurance coverage poised to slip during chaotic enrollment season

Paula Andalo, Kaiser Health News on

Published in Health & Fitness

"People want to have the issue of their health coverage resolved," said Anne Packham, director of the insurance marketplace project at Covering Central Florida, an Orlando-based organization. "And all the announcements about Obamacare frustrate them."

Enrolling a consumer on the exchanges is not a 10-minute process. A family can purchase a health plan there and also learn if they are eligible for Medicaid or CHIP, the federal-state insurance program for children in low-income families that earn too much to qualify for Medicaid. It can take up to an hour and a half and often requires more than one session with the navigator, who are the certified insurance market experts who have helped enroll millions of Latinos across the country.

Many Hispanics prefer to sign up for coverage in person with a trained navigator, said several people with experience helping consumers.

In an email, CMS said that scheduled website outages would not affect the enrollment flow and that the federal call center where consumers can get help with enrollment questions "will continue to assist callers."

"It is important to note that the duration of the potential Sunday outages are the maximum amount of time allowed for the maintenance; actual outage times could be shorter," the email added.

The Spanish-language website had a rough start when Obamacare plans launched in 2013, not coming online until two months after the English version. Still, navigators say that cuidadodesalud.gov often serves as a "last resort" for consumers, both Latinos and others, when they have technical problems with the English version.

"In past registrations, many times when HealthCare.gov was down, the Spanish site was not," said Bouton.

"Navigators are bilingual and generally use the site in English, but when it is not working well, they end the registration process in cuidadodesalud.gov, which often worked better (than HealthCare.gov) in previous years," said Julia Holloway, director of program development and navigator services for Affiliated Service Providers of Indiana, in Indianapolis. Her program has been told by federal officials that it will get 82 percent less money for navigators during the open season this fall.

The lower flow of consumers on cuidadodesalud.gov has made the Spanish version technologically more stable than the English version.

From Nov. 1, 2015, to Jan. 2, 2016, nearly 20 million people used HealthCare.gov, compared with 953,708 who navigated cuidadodesalud.gov.

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