by Christine Chiu and Sascha Murillo. Chiu is staff attorney and Murillo is community organizer at New York Lawyers for the Public Interest
With more than 900,000 people enrolled in insurance plans through New York’s Health Plan Marketplace, New York is an “Obamacare” success story. A recently released New York State Department of Health (DOH) report, detailing demographic information of consumers who signed up for insurance through the Marketplace from October 1, 2013 to April 15, 2014, showed that more than 80 percent of enrollees were previously uninsured – some receiving coverage for the first time in their lives. Furthermore, nearly three-quarters of enrollees received tax credits or cost-sharing reductions to make their coverage more affordable.
While thousands of individuals now enjoy the benefits of health insurance, many New Yorkers, particularly those who are limited-English proficient (LEP), still lack coverage. According to the State’s report, only 15 percent of enrollees self-reported that they preferred to speak a language other than English. Before the launch of the Marketplace, the State estimated that 36 percent of potential enrollees would be LEP. The difference between potential and actual self-reported LEP enrollees may be indicative of the barriers that these New Yorkers encountered when accessing the Marketplace during the first open enrollment period. For example, the Marketplace website and online application were available only in English, and the homepage of the Marketplace website did not contain taglines directing consumers to materials and information in their language.
In order for health reform to achieve its full potential, it is critical that these immigrant and LEP populations enroll in health insurance; immigrants are more likely than U.S. born citizens to be uninsured and less likely to obtain needed medical services. Additionally, providing immigrants and LEP New Yorkers access to health insurance is not only the right thing to do; it’s also fiscally responsible. Enrolling LEP New Yorkers in health insurance will not only improve access to health care for these populations, but will also help reduce the cost of healthcare for everyone, as immigrants tend to be younger and healthier than U.S. citizens.