Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders Need Health Insurance Before the Jan. 31 Deadline

This year, 2 million Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders can gain health coverage from the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Many of these people have never had insurance before and cannot afford doctor visits and prescription medications. Before the ACA, nearly one in seven AAs and NHPIs were uninsured -- and even more were underinsured. Today, millions of Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians, and Pacific Islanders (AA and NHPI) are part of the 17.6 million people enrolled in coverage across the country -- thanks to the health care law.

There are more affordable options than ever before to ensure AA and NHPI families are covered. Health insurance marketplaces in each state have a variety of plans for every budget, including financial assistance for middle- and low-income families. Families and children may also qualify for coverage through Medicaid or the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP). And coverage includes the essentials of health care: doctor's visits, maternal care, prescription medications, and hospitalizations (if necessary). It is through these programs and the marketplaces that eligible AAs and NHPIs can find the affordable coverage that works best for them.

In Utah, one of our partners worked closely with a Tongan American man to find coverage through the marketplace. His employer had recently reduced his hours, but he was still paying $550 every month for his family's health coverage. With the assistance of a navigator, he found a plan with the same coverage that was only $200 a month!

The good news is that there may be even more affordable options over the next few years. Last week, the president announced a new proposal that, if adopted by Congress, would help push remaining states that haven't expanded Medicaid over the finish line. States that expand their Medicaid programs would receive three full years of federal funding. In a separate development, the newly elected governor of Louisiana recently announced an expansion to the state's program, which will save about $200 million in uncompensated care costs. If all states expanded Medicaid, about 798,000 uninsured AAs and NHPIs be eligible for Medicaid or CHIP across the country. Expansion could potentially make a huge impact in closing the health care gap for AA and NHPI communities and many more across the nation.

When looking for the right coverage, people can ask for help from a variety of sources, including through Healthcare.gov. Many community health groups hold enrollment fairs with assisters to answer questions and help families walk through the process. For AAs and NHPIs who do not speak English well, in-language assistance is available from trained interpreters and translators in Marketplace call centers.

My organization, the Asian & Pacific Islander American Health Forum, has been honored to work alongside our state-based partners and be a national lead for Action for Health Justice (AHJ), a national collaborative working with community partners and in-person assisters to close the health insurance gap. During the first two open enrollment periods, AHJ partners outreached, educated, and enrolled more than 850,000 AAs and NHPIs in 22 states and provided one-on-one assistance in 56 languages.

The experiences of the first two open enrollment periods showed a need for more in-language materials to explain health insurance terms - which can be complicated regardless of the language. Working together with partners on the ground across the country, AHJ developed a glossary of common health insurance terms, available in more than 12 Asian and Pacific Islander languages. Because one in three AAs and NHPIs have difficulty speaking, writing, reading or understanding English, being able to access information in multiple languages is critical.

It is also critical that we continue our focus on the millions of AAs and NHPIs who are eligible, but do not have insurance yet. The current open enrollment period wraps up at the end of January, so our time is running out! During the White House's third annual AAPI Affordable Care Act Week of Action, we are working with our federal colleagues, including the White House Initiative on AAPIs and the Surgeon General's office to encourage all to sign up and get enrolled in health coverage.

It is clear that the ACA has made incredible progress in advancing the health of our families across the country. Let us finish this year's enrollment strong and reach as many eligible people as possible to get the coverage they need.