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Hispanics targeted health overhaul

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POSTED December 2, 2014 12:08 a.m.

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. (AP) — Between the avocado and grapefruit displays, Adolfo Briceno approaches customers in the bustling Hispanic supermarket to ask whether they have health insurance.

Turn left at the bucket of flower bouquets, he tells dozens of shoppers on a recent Saturday, to spot the table covered with the Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina logo and its Spanish-speaking agent.

A local Mexican music radio station is doing a live remote broadcast from outside the grocery and periodically mentioning Blue Cross, backing up a line of people curious about coverage in front of the harried agent.

Such atypical approaches to selling health insurance policies are playing out across the country since the second round of enrollment under the federal Affordable Care Act opened in mid-November. Insurance companies and some states are focusing heavily on signing up eligible Hispanics, a group that accounts for a large share of the nation’s uninsured but largely avoided applying for coverage during the first full year the health care reform law was in effect.

Hispanics accounted for just 11 percent of those who enrolled in the private policies sold during the initial sign-up period, which ended in March.

Substantially boosting the overall number of enrollees beyond the 6.7 million who signed up the first year will depend on reaching people who have been uninsured for years or never been insured, and that will mean heavily targeting Hispanic communities.

After talking to the Blue Cross agent while shopping at the Winston-Salem supermarket, Gabriela Camacho, 21, learned that policies for her 41-year-old mother and 46-year-old father will likely cost less than $100 a month each after government subsidies.

“We have a lot of bills from the hospital for my dad,” said Camacho, a military spouse whose health care is covered through her husband, a Marine stationed at Camp Lejeune.

Before chancing on the agent, she had seen billboards for Blue Cross, the state’s dominant insurer, during her drive from the Camp Lejeune area. The signs reminded her of the current enrollment period, which ends Feb. 15.

President Barack Obama’s recent executive order dealing with immigrants not in the country legally, which in large part will help parents of children born in the U.S., will not make immigrants eligible to buy health insurance in federal exchanges set up under the health care law or to apply for tax credits that would lower the cost of insurance.

Still, reaching Hispanics who are eligible and persuading them to sign up are top priorities for the law’s supporters.

A variety of factors have contributed to the relatively paltry sign-up numbers for Hispanics so far. Reports by the Urban Institute and the health research group of accounting and consulting firm PwC describe the fear of deportation for family members who are in the country illegally, language barriers, worries about privacy, concerns about affordability and a general unfamiliarity with insurance markets.

“Hispanics have tremendous consumer purchasing power, but our research shows that they have also been more likely than other consumers to delay health care, and don’t have great trust in the U.S. health system,” said Frank Lemmon, a PwC consultant who advises U.S. health care companies.

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