The Coalition for Hispanic/Latino Issues and Progress (CHIP), a group of about 64 collaborating partners, seeks to advance and promote the Hispanic/Latino culture and community. As one of the largest uninsured groups in the country, the Affordable Care Act seeks to help Latino families obtain and keep affordable health insurance coverage.
“Although Obamacare was created to increase the number of Americans covered by health insurance we found that very few individuals within the Hispanic/Latino community and even more organizations serving the Hispanic/Latino community seemed unaware of what Obamacare means to their constituencies,” said Michael Ferrer, longtime CHIP conference director.
“Very few know how families can utilize the PPACA to keep their children insured until age 26 - even less seemed to know that children could now stay on their family’s insurance until they are 26, regardless of whether they live at home, are in college, or are married. We came to realize that the most significant government expansion and regulatory overhaul of the U.S. healthcare system since the passage of Medicare and Medicaid in 1965 had taken place and the Hispanic/Latino community as a whole was in the dark as to what it meant and how it could be utilized.”
But Latinos and those who serve their needs must learn to navigate the complexities of the legislation in order to find out what they may be qualified for and how current health services may evolve and change under the developing system.
Teresa Niño, director of the Office of Public Engagement in the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, served as the keynote speaker and gave an overview of the Affordable Care Act. She called Latinos “the most under-insured and uninsured in the United States.” There are an estimated 1.5 million people in Ohio who are under-insured or uninsured. Nearly 30 percent of those are Latino.
“The main takeaway for conference attendees was an understanding that there are a lot of good things within the PPACA for our community and that the word must go out to Hispanic/Latinos and the at-large community so that we not only understand the provisions but can navigate them effectively to the betterment of families and community,” said Ferrer. “This year's conference attendees came to realize that important Obamacare information has not reached so many people who need to know. If they don't help get info on Obamacare to their communities, many people will suffer in the future.”
Some PPACA-related decisions have yet to be made that will further affect the Latino community in Ohio. For example, many Republicans in the Ohio General Assembly oppose Gov. John Kasich’s attempts to enroll the state in an expanded Medicaid system. Conservative members of the state legislature are under heavy political pressure from Tea Party activists to turn down $13 billion in federal funds budgeted to expand Medicaid to some 300,000 eligible Ohioans.
The generous deal — in which the federal government would cover the full cost of the expansion for three years and 90 percent thereafter — is what motivated Kasich to accept the expansion. Thwarting the expansion would be a blow to the many low-income, uninsured residents—including Latinos—set to obtain the expanded coverage.
CHIP Advocacy Co-Chairs
Dina and Mike Ferrer
Ms. Niño told the crowd that the federal government is working on “a Plan B” for states such as Ohio where the Medicaid expansion may not be approved. Under the proposed plan, those who can not afford a health care plan as required by ACA will not be fined.
“We’re still talking to them,” she said. “We’re still working with them.”
The next step is to continue maintaining contact with our partners, form additional coalitions and inspire them to do what their heart tells them is necessary to get our people the information they need to impact their situations and that of their families and neighborhoods,” said Ferrer, who also warned Latinos must get loud with the legislature.
“We must also continue working with organizations such as the Ohio Commission on Hispanic/Latino Affairs to secure unbiased information for our communities. CHIP is about cooperation and collaboration. However, when it comes to our communities, we must be as loud as we have to be to secure equal services and considerations for our people, and our communities.”
Ms. Niño also addressed myths and misconceptions about the Affordable Care Act. She explained that no healthcare plan will be offered to undocumented immigrants. She also stated the president’s healthcare initiative should eventually lower premium prices and health costs, as more people are encouraged to live a healthier lifestyle.
“We stand at the doorway of a new and somewhat uncertain time for our community. A new day has dawned and we must prepare our people to ensure they benefit and are not left behind,” said Ferrer.
“CHIP will work with any organization that has the community's best interests at heart to ensure that our people are prepared for the challenges ahead. As community leaders we have a responsibility to invest in our community to ensure that people are well informed and prepared for the challenges, opportunities, and responsibilities inherent in this new millennium. CHIP will continue to monitor the situation in Ohio as it relates to Medicare and Medicaid and will encourage both our members and the many organizations to do the same.”
The event also included some fun events, such as a Latino comedian and flamenco dance lessons. An evening gala was included in the day-long program at the 18th annual conference. A free youth leadership summit also was available to high school students.