Ivan Valenzuela/COACHELLA UNINC
INDIO — The Coachella Valley is eclectic in its array of residents and lifestyles. An Eastern Coachella Valley resident can work his entire life in the fields, but chances are he will never enjoy the retirement havens of nearby Palm Springs. It is also unlikely that he and his family have health insurance.
Path to Health, a new public information campaign funded by The California Endowment (TCE) and Desert Healthcare District, is aiming to break down barriers and help residents enroll in the Covered California health insurance exchange.
“Sometimes there is a language barrier, and many times it’s the person behind the counter that’s trying to help you that produces those barriers,” says Efren Tenorio, who attended the Path to Health enrollment event January 23 at JFK Memorial Hospital.
Ynez Canela, Path to Health liaison for Desert Regional Medical Center and JFK Memorial Hospital, helped organize the event by reaching out to the community.
“There’s really no one place to go to target these folks,” says Canela, when asked about finding locations to find uninsured residents. “Part of it is where to go, but a lot of it is also always making sure you’re asking the questions. ‘Are you already insured? Do you know someone who’s not insured? Let’s get them here today.’ If you miss that part, you’re going to miss out on a large audience.”
California is using a large part of their marketing resources to target two distinct groups; one of these is young adults.
Canela hopes to host a larger enrollment event in Palm Desert in the near future to reach the younger residents from across the region. Although Palm Desert seems far from the Eastern Coachella Valley, many young people come to this city to attend College of the Desert and the local campuses of University of California at Riverside and California State University San Bernardino.
“There’s a big push to target the younger people,” says Canela.
Younger people carry a lot of the weight in the health care system. Statistically they are less likely to need services, balancing out the more sick-prone elderly residents.
The Other Group: Latinos
Latinos are the other group that California is having a difficult time reaching. California Simulation of Insurance Markets predicts Latinos are will make up two thirds (66 percent) of the remaining uninsured in California by 2019. Of those who are eligible but remain uninsured, they will make up 64 percent.
Latinos make up about 38 percent of California’s total population. In Indio, Latinos account for 67 percent; In Coachella and Thermal, they are 96 and 97 percent, respectively.
Much of the struggle is due to English often being their second language. It’s the same struggle that steered many away from programs like Medicaid. UC Berkley Labor Center reports that “nearly three out of five adults who are predicted to remain uninsured are limited English proficient.”
Undocumented = Uninsured
Undocumented residents are not eligible for health coverage. Their only options are non-profit clinics, mobile clinics such as Flying Doctors, or forgoing medical attention altogether.
Although some can receive help from Medi-Cal in emergencies, the majority of this group is being left out of the Affordable Care Act.
TCE, a private statewide foundation, is leading a campaign to ensure that all Californians have access to affordable health services. TCE is also the funder of Building Healthy Communities which is focused on improving the health in 14 communities across the state, including the Eastern Coachella Valley.
On the TCE website, Daniel Zingale, senior vice president, says, “Improving health care for the remaining uninsured, including undocumented immigrants, is a win-win for all Californians… when it comes to public health, the public health facts are clear: a state is healthier when we’re all in it together. Threats to public health don’t know or distinguish according to immigration status.
“I’m Glad I Came in Today”
Path to Health is funding 25 certified enrollment counselors, or “navigators,” at six agencies throughout the Coachella Valley: Borrego Community Health Foundation, Clinicas de Salud del Pueblo, Hope to Health, Planned Parenthood, Catholic Charities and FIND Food Bank.
Residents can access the assistance of one of these counselors by calling (800) 343-4535 or (866) 893-8446.
Canela is working with these partner agencies to break through language barriers, poverty, and misconceptions to make people see the benefits of having reliable health insurance.
“I’m glad I came in today,” says Tenorio, as he was walking out of the enrollment fair at JFK Memorial Hospital. “It made me feel at ease.”
When asked about the misconceptions of health insurance, he says, “When you see what it’s going to produce and what the results will be, it doesn’t compare with what is said about it.”