From minorities to rural areas, health insurance outreach aims to bridge fed cuts

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David Becker/Las Vegas News Bureau

U.S. Rep. Ruben Kihuen, D-Nev., speaking during a ceremony kicking off Mexican Independence Day festivities at the Forum Shops at Caesars in September, is sending out videos in English and Spanish to encourage enrollment on the Silver State Health Exchange.

Tue, Nov 7, 2017 (2 a.m.)

A huge federal cut to health insurance outreach is spurring awareness efforts, with minority and rural communities considered some of the most at risk of missing the message.

Open enrollment on the Silver State Health Exchange runs through Dec. 15. Heather Korbulic, executive director of the exchange, said an estimated 11 percent of Nevada residents remain uninsured and about 43,000 consumers are eligible for subsidies but not accessing them, either purchasing private plans off the exchange or just remaining uninsured.

Meanwhile, the federal government has cut 90 percent from marketing and advertising for the Affordable Care Act, and implemented a 40 percent drop in outreach funding. Korbulic said individuals and groups have been stepping in to help spread awareness, including initiatives such as Save My Care and Get America Covered, a project of public relations officials in the former Obama administration.

“(They) have banded together and come up with some funds to do advertising since funding has been cut at the federal level,” Korbulic said. “So we’re just communicating with anybody who will talk to us, and it’s paid off.”

There are still concerns among residents who are afraid of giving their information to the federal government, Korbulic said. Only residents living in the country legally can access exchange subsidies.

She said she’s also concerned about encouraging enrollment in the rural communities, where she said prices tend to be highest, regardless of income level.

“I’m concerned that we’re going to go backward in terms of insuring rural communities, which has been a huge success for Nevada to get so many people out in those communities the insurance that they need,” she said.

The uninsured rate in Nevada’s rural communities fell by roughly half after Gov. Brian Sandoval became the first Republican governor in the country to expand Medicaid under the ACA.

Korbulic and Rep. Ruben Kihuen, D-Nev., say some consumers are confused about what the rules are this year amid the efforts to repeal and, or, replace Obamacare and end the tax for those who do not buy insurance.

The Internal Revenue Service has said it will not accept tax returns that do not include its proof of insurance form. Korbulic said the ACA’s individual mandate will be enforced, and those who need to buy insurance but fail to do so will face a tax of $695 per year or 2.5 percent of your income, whichever is greater.

Kihuen said he is sending out videos in English and Spanish to encourage residents to access insurance. He said a $90 million cut from a $100 million budget is a significant amount to make up for but that groups around the country are trying to make up for that.

“All we’re doing now is making sure that more people get health coverage,” Kihuen said. “For those who still don’t have any, let’s make it accessible to them as well. As the only Nevada delegate who speaks Spanish, it’s incumbent on me to share this info in both Spanish and English.”

Korbulic said the exchange website can be translated into about 50 different languages, and that in-person help is offered in Spanish and many other languages, including Chinese. She said there are customers who come through the exchange without speaking any English at all.

“Our call center can connect you with whatever language service you need,” she said. “We’re pretty well covered where that’s concerned.”

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