Florida's Insurers Push To Sell Health Coverage To Latinos

Mar 6, 2014
Originally published on March 7, 2014 7:59 am

For all of California's troubles advertising health care to Latinos, that state has embraced the Affordable Care Act and is spending millions of dollars to get people to sign up. Florida is a different story.

Florida has a high rate of uninsured Latinos - almost 10 percent of all the country's uninsured Hispanics who are eligible for health insurance under the Affordable Care Act live in the state.

But Florida lawmakers rejected the Affordable Care Act from the beginning, even being party to a lawsuit to stop its implementation. When the ACA did become law, the state decided not to run its own exchange, and it has not expanded Medicaid. Governor Rick Scott has come out in favor of Medicaid expansion, but it's unlikely the legislature will go along with it this session.

Florida is not marketing the law to anybody. In the absence of state outreach efforts, it's up to the insurers and other groups to get the word out about Obamacare.

And Florida's Hispanics are a group they really want to reach. They tend to be younger and healthier than the rest of the population, so insurers want them because they may pay into the system more than they use in services. Having healthy young people on their rolls helps insurers balance the books.

Florida Blue, a large insurer, is trying to reach the population with a mix of old and new media. The company has developed a mobile phone app, because research shows that's how many Latinos access the Internet. Florida Blue is also partnering with Spanish-language bloggers and forming a partnership with Navarro, a Hispanic drug store. And they've been working with community health centers where Latinos go to the doctor, since face-to-face interaction is critical to reaching this demographic.

Churches, health centers and advocacy groups from within the Latino community have also been working on a grassroots level.

Spanish-language television is also playing a key role in Florida. Univision is partnering with rival Telemundo for Thursday's town hall with President Obama.

Univision's Stephen Keppel says his network is embedding messages about health care into their variety programming, such as Sábado Gigante and Despierta America.

This story is part of a partnership with NPR, WLRN and Kaiser Health News.

Copyright 2014 WLRN Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.wlrn.org/.



All right. So it might not be going as planned, but California is trying hard to get Latinos signed up. In the state of Florida, it has been a very different story.

Sammy Mack from member station WLRN in Miami is on the line with us. Sammy, welcome to the program.

SAMMY MACK, BYLINE: Good morning.

GREENE: What is the situation in Florida?

MACK: Well, Florida has been really resistant to the Affordable Care Act. It was one of the states that led the lawsuit against it. And now that it's here, Florida is not running its own insurance exchanges. They're run by the feds. And so the state of Florida hasn't been promoting anything related to the Affordable Care Act, particularly not the insurance exchanges. So they have not been marketing it to anyone.

GREENE: And so that's an important point, here. I mean, there are a lot of people in the state who don't believe in this law. They don't think this is the best way for Latinos or for anyone to have health insurance.

MACK: That's right. At the state level, the Florida House has been very, very resistant to expanding Medicaid. Governor Rick Scott originally was completely against the Affordable Care Act. He has since said that he would be open to expanding Medicaid, but there is a lot of resistance.

GREENE: Well, how does this affect the Latino community? And I guess, how big is the Latino community in Florida? How many people are we talking about?

MACK: There are 1.1 million uninsured Latinos who would be eligible. And about a third of Florida's Hispanics are not covered by insurance. It's a little bit higher than that here in South Florida, where I am, in Miami. And they're a large group, and they are a group that tends to be a little bit younger, a little bit healthier, and so they're a group that's really important to the insurers.

GREENE: And for people who support this law and want to get the message to the Latino community, how is that message getting through as of now?

MACK: Florida Blue, which is the state's Blue Cross Blue Shield insurer, has launched its own marketing campaign. And to get to the Latinos and Spanish speakers they've been doing a really interesting thing, which is they've been working with Hispanic bloggers. They've been developing mobile apps in Spanish. And they're partnering with Navarro, which is a Hispanic drug store chain down here. And they've also been partnering with health centers, which is where a lot of uninsured Latinos already go for care. It's kind of a two-part strategy. It's the new media, because Blue has learned that mobile is where you can find a lot of uninsured Latinos. They access the Internet through their phones. But, as April mentioned, culturally, this is a group that also wants to know who they're signing contracts with. They make decisions as a family. And so part of the marketing strategy involves face time and personal interactions.

GREENE: And so that's the insurance side of things. Is that the main way that people are learning about the Affordable Care Act in Latino communities, or other ways, as well?

MACK: Yes. Churches, health centers, advocacy groups from within the Latino community have been working on a very grassroots level to get people to sign up for insurance. I also spoke with the guy who oversees health and education platforms for Univision, which has a big office down here in Miami, and he was saying that they have actually been folding insurance education information into their entertainment programming. So you can watch "Sabado Gigante," and between music acts and skits and stuff on this variety show, you can also find information about health insurance.

GREENE: Let me just ask you one question about Medicaid, which you mentioned, Sammy. I mean, this, we should say, is a program that's important to the Latino community, in many ways.

MACK: Yeah. There are about 200,000 Hispanics in South Florida who would qualify for Medicaid, but they're going to fall into that gap, where we're not expanding. So when they go to the insurance marketplaces, they may find that they can't afford a plan, or they don't qualify for subsidies because they don't quite make enough. And Governor Scott has since come out in favor of expanding Medicaid, but there's real resistance at the state level to do that.

GREENE: We've been speaking to Sammy Mack, from member station WLRN in Miami. Sammy, thanks a lot.

MACK: De nada, David.

GREENE: And the reporting you've heard from Sammy and also from April Dembosky in this segment comes to us from a partnership with NPR, local member stations and Kaiser Health News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.