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California struggles to get Latinos to sign up for health coverage

California said more than 828,000 people have signed up for health insurance on the state exchange established under Obamacare, but the state continues to have problems getting Latinos to sign up
Despite gains, Calif. health exchange struggles to add Latinos 02:00

LOS ANGELES - The state of California said Wednesday that more than 828,000 have signed up for coverage through the state's health insurance exchange, which was established under Obamacare.

California is now on pace to beat enrollment projects. But few Latinos are signing up. CBS News set out to find out why.


Angelika Marquez CBS News
 For the past 17 months, Angelika Marquez has been trying to get uninsured Latinos in California to sign up for health care coverage.

She's been doing outreach for Covered California, the state's health care exchange. Her job has not been easy.

"I have to explain what a premium is, what a deductible is, what an out-of-pocket maximum is, detail by detail, because it is completely new to them," she said.

Half of the uninsured in California are Latino. Yet they account for just 21 percent of people who have signed up for new insurance plans. Health experts blame the language barrier, fears about immigration status, and lack of access to a computer.

"They are way more apt to want to sign up in person sitting across a table from someone," said Peter Lee, the executive director of Covered California.

Lee admits that when enrollment began in October, the agency didn't have enough Spanish-speaking counselors and the Spanish translation on the website was incorrect.

 Why was it so hard to translate the website into Spanish?

"You need to get the technical issues right. It isn't that simple," said Lee.

"We have really been ramping up the last year to make sure with focus groups and having Spanish speakers at the table and we will keep doing that," he said.

Nora Castellano tried to enroll online for months. Errors in the system wouldn't give her credit for the federal subsidy.

"I have been ready to make the payment for over a week but I have not been able to pay," she said in a phone call to Covered California.

Castellano finally got help enrolling at a clinic in Pasadena.

Assistance efforts like this helped Covered California sign up 45,000 Latinos in January. The goal is to enroll another 145,000 by March 31,

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