Nonprofit Offers Bilingual Counseling to Help Latinos Enroll in Healthcare


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Health issues disproportionately plague the immigrant community in Broward County, Fla. (27% Latino), as they often lack access to healthcare due to lack of insurance, language barriers, and other obstacles.

Magaly Alvarado, of Hispanic Unity of Florida (HUF), works to improve the lives of this underserved population—especially in health and wellness.

They began conducting special registration events and outreach to reduce the barriers Latinos face in enrolling for health insurance and accessing healthcare.

Hard choices due to finances

Magaly Alvarado, program manager of the local immigrant advocate group Hispanic Unity of Florida (HUF), knows that Broward County, Fla. (27% Latino), has a geographic location that has led it to become a popular entry point into the United States for many Latin American and Caribbean immigrants. Many ultimately make the area their home.

However, large portions of this population come to the country with little to no resources to speak of.

Many have no familial ties to the area, do not speak English, and have little income. These conditions often lead to dire financial difficulties; the current poverty level among Latinos in the area is nearly 15%. As poverty is a key driver of health conditions and health equity, this is a major concern for the area’s population.

In their attempts to assimilate and survive, many go without essential preventative healthcare, Alvarado said.

“There is often times a language barrier and there is a trust factor,” Alvarado said.

Latinos were not fully utilizing the healthcare services available to them in Broward County, according to a Florida Department of Health report on attitudes and usage of healthcare providers.

This lack of utilization, language barriers, and cultural differences between Latinos and healthcare providers cause health concerns often go unchecked and/or untreated.

This has led to serious health consequences, Alvarado said.

Broward County, per recent Florida Department of Health findings, has high incidences of prostate, colorectal, and cervical cancers, especially among Latinos. These are among the more preventable and treatable forms of cancer; yet the immigrant Latino population remains one of the more underserved communities in the area.

HUF has seen these issues health disparities first-hand among their clients, who they have served since 1982 with a variety of programs and projects. That experience along with high rates of uninsured residents—27% of the population of Broward County is currently uninsured—sparked HUF to look for ways to bridge the gap.

“It became apparent to us that health and wellness was going to be a need for us to address,” Alvarado said.

They decided to try and help local Latinos get and use health insurance.

Giving a voice to Latino immigrants

The mission and vision of HUF is to empowering immigrants and others to become self-sufficient, productive and civically engaged and that everyone is entitled to the American dream.

One of the relatively “open” access points into helping with health and wellness for HUF would be helping Latinos obtain health insurance. With the passing of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), obtaining insurance became a task that HUF could realistically become involved in.

“We knew that a lot of similar organizations had begun campaigns or initiatives to help enroll Latinos in the ACA,” Alvarado said. “We felt this was something we could do.”

One study found that low-income Latinos were much more likely than members of other groups to receive help from ACA marketplace navigators and application assistors: “More generally, we found that navigators and application assistance programs were very effective at increasing the enrollment rate among would-be applicants,” according to a report on the study by the Commonwealth Fund.

They started planning and mobilizing support for a volunteer team to help Latinos sign up for insurance.

Fortunately, there are a lot of model outreach campaigns working to help Latinos enroll nationwide.

For example, The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), the nonprofit coalition Enroll America and other national enrollment partners in January 2016 launched a “Latino Week of Action” targeting uninsured consumers in Latino communities across the country, HealthDay reports.

National Council of La Raza (NCLR) is working with community organizations that belong to the NCLR Affiliate Network to provide information and facilitate enrollment within the Latino community.

In Broward County, they could take such best practices and apply them locally.

“Again, I think it goes back to the obstacles that this population had in front of it,” Alvarado said. “We wanted to do whatever we could to help remove some of those.”

Getting the word out in the community

To enroll local Latinos, they decided they wanted to conduct registration events and appointments featuring application counselors at their headquarters. They started to plan registration events and promote the events locally.

Counselors would be certified and able to help people log in and navigate the ACA Marketplace.

Beyond registration events, they hoped to go door-to-door, make phone calls, and attend health fairs.

Change: In 2014, HUF started conducting Health Insurance Marketplace Registration events.

At each event, two certified application counselors helped participants navigate the ACA Marketplace.

“We held our first event and our experts helped the applicants go through the whole process,” Alvarado said. “They created an account, picked a plan, and ultimately applied.”

Though small in scope the first year, the initiative’s outreach great the second year.

For 2015, phone calls, health fairs, and literally going into the community to speak to people door-to-door were all utilized to increase the registration numbers. They helped set appointments with the insurance counselors and instructed people what they needed to bring.

“We felt that having access to health insurance would go a long way in helping these people not just get the medical treatments they needed, but also help them be healthier in the long term,” Alvarado said.

The additional outreach has increased the numbers from 2014 (exact figures not yet available). By continuing the proactive outreach approach, they feel that numbers will continue increasing especially by refining their tactics.

Equity: HUF offers registration events in English, Spanish, Portuguese, and Creole, to ensure they reach as many people as possible.

“We wanted to make this is as easy as possible,” Alvarado said.

Finding the most effective means to communicate their message is key.

“I think by doing this, we are really helping the community,” Alvarado said. “By removing the obstacles, real or perceived, it makes them not only healthier but feel more included into the community. It helps them achieve their goals and it helps us fulfill our mission.”

Healthcare for all

HUF plans to continue their registration events for each open enrollment period.

Having healthcare coverage will help reduce the gap in health disparities in the Latino population of the area and in the nation overall. Better health will enable the immigrant population of Broward County to ultimately achieve their long-term goals.

“This is a good program for us and we feel it can only become more successful over time,” Alvarado said.

By The Numbers By The Numbers



of Latinos remain without health insurance coverage

This success story was produced by Salud America! with support from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

The stories are intended for educational and informative purposes. References to specific policymakers, individuals, schools, policies, or companies have been included solely to advance these purposes and do not constitute an endorsement, sponsorship, or recommendation. Stories are based on and told by real community members and are the opinions and views of the individuals whose stories are told. Organization and activities described were not supported by Salud America! or the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and do not necessarily represent the views of Salud America! or the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

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