LOS ANGELES -- With just a few weeks left for uninsured Americans to enroll in a health plan to be guaranteed coverage on Jan. 1, 2014 through the Affordable Care Act, officials at Covered California are working hard to spread the word, especially to communities that have been traditionally underserved by the health care system.
Covered California -- aka the California Health Benefit Exchange -- is the state's health insurance marketplace created to implement the Affordable Care Act in California. The Exchange is an independent public entity within the state government that has a five-member board appointed by the Governor and the Legislature.
Led by executive director Peter V. Lee, Covered California officials are trying to make sure that everyone is aware of the exchange, has the resources to access it, and that underserved populations like the LGBT and African-American communities are reached.
In an interview with San Diego Gay & Lesbian News, Lee said that changes in the healthcare system are groundbreaking for all Americans, but particularly for communities that have been excluded and disenfranchised.
"When you think about populations like the African-American and LGBT communities that have experienced discrimination in healthcare, these reforms are more meaningful to them than any others," Lee said. "As for the LGBT community, through our outreach we want to ensure that all LGBT people know how transformative the Affordable Care Act is to them either today or in the future."
Lee urged people who are currently insured through their employers or another plan to keep Covered California and the Affordable Care Act in mind in case they lose their work-sponsored coverage, because they will be able to easily access coverage on the Exchange and never be denied healthcare.
Covered California is utilizing a number of methods to reach the LGBT community, including partnerships and traditional marketing.
"We want to make sure that trusted voices in the community are communicating what is happening with healthcare," Lee said.
To achieve this, Covered California has partnered with well-known LGBT community organizations such as local LGBT community centers, and the Transgender Law Project. Working with Covered California, these organizations are doing much outreach to the people they serve, through email and Social Media communications, having representatives on staff to assist people with their healthcare questions, and having enrollment materials available in their physical locations.
Besides partnerships with the local organizations, Lee said that Covered California has created an aggressive marketing campaign that includes print ads, billboards and Social Media. Advertisements have been tailored to various communities, including images of same-gender couples.
"We are not bashful about reaching out to the LGBT community," Lee said. "A core value of Covered California is to the reflect the great diversity of the state, so we need to walk that talk."
Lee said he wishes more LGBT media would make the Affordable Care Act a bigger story than they have.
"Why is [the Affordable Care Act/Covered California] not the cover story on all gay media?" Lee asked. "This is transformative for this community!"
Lee also noted the healthcare enrollment success rate in California, saying that 70% of people who have accessed the site have been able to sign-up for coverage.
"Media hype has been created by people who want [the Affordable Care Act] to fail," Lee said of the much-publicized news that the federal Healthcare.gov site is full of problems.
Lee encourages people who have had a positive experience with Covered California to share their stories.
"We have to tell our friends that it's a new day," Lee said.
The Covered California program can be accessed online HERE. If you have trouble completing the form online, try the old-fashioned approach of telephoning the toll-free number to get help. SDGLN Editor in Chief Ken Williams said he made an error on his online form, and resorted to calling for help, and that his application was then conducted over the phone after zero wait time.
One of Covered California's advertisements targeting the gay community.