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Health educators explain why the AAPI community should enroll in Obamacare

Alhambra residents have until January 31 to enroll in a health insurance plan through Covered California, the state’s healthcare marketplace, and receive federal premium assistance under the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare. 

While the Asian community may feel intimidated by the process, due to language barriers and uncertainty about eligibility, there are trained enrollment counselors who make the process easier. Even with the potential repeal of Obamacare, enrollees would have coverage through the end of 2017.

Weiyu Zhang, a multilingual health educator, provides free assistance to anyone who wants to purchase affordable health insurance through Covered California or wonders if they qualify for Medi-Cal, a health safety net for zero to low-income populations. Her clients, who are primarily Chinese and live in the San Gabriel Valley, worry about losing coverage if Obamacare is repealed without replacement. Without health insurance, people are at risk for medical bankruptcy.

In the early hours of Jan. 12, Republican senators made their first move in repealing Obamacare through a budget reconciliation process. That same day, community leaders held a press conference in Los Angeles County, urging people to take advantage of Covered California’s open enrollment period. 

"We all wait until the last minute. The message is, the last minute is coming up," Peter V. Lee, executive director of Covered California, said at the press conference hosted at the Asian Americans Advancing Justice – Los Angeles office. People who want their coverage effective on February 1 must enroll by January 20.

Covered California provides financial help to lower the cost of a private health plan, with premiums as low as $50, Lee said.

John Chiang, California State Treasurer, said that the Affordable Care Act takes care of people who historically could not get access to healthcare. That includes people who did not qualify for Medi-Cal until after the Medicaid expansion, people who were above the Medi-Cal income threshold but could not afford insurance, people with pre-existing conditions, and people under the age of 26 who rely on coverage through a parent’s health plan.

"As we celebrate this new year, let's think about what we wish upon each other. We wish health, happiness and prosperity. We're not going to be able to do this unless everyone is covered [by health insurance]," Chiang said at the press conference.

If people do not where to get help, they just need their zip code. People can visit the Covered California website and find someone in their local area who can also provide in-language assistance.

That is how Zhang and many others from the Health Justice Network, a statewide collaborative serving Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, get connected with people who want health insurance, but do not know where to start. Together, they have reached about 250,000 people, leading to 1600 new enrollees and 900 renewals in Covered California, and 4500 Medi-Cal applicants along with 2000 renewals, Stewart Kwoh, executive director of Advancing Justice – Los Angeles, said.

But Zhang, who holds clinic office hours in Los Angeles Chinatown and Arcadia, can also be found at community events in Alhambra, such as the Asian Small Business Expo and Alhambra Wellness Expo last year. Although her outreach focuses on underserved populations, including Limited-English proficient Chinese residents, recent immigrants, elder folks, and undocumented people, she welcomes anyone to call her office number at 213-241-0262.

A small percentage of people have the right information but still don't sign up for insurance. They think it is too expensive or that they are healthy, Zhang told the Source. She listens to their major concerns, and explains to them the importance of preventive healthcare, which include annual physical checkups, immunizations, and cancer screenings. It is more cost-effective to find out a condition at an earlier stage than having to do surgery if a lump is discovered, Zhang said.

She also warns her clients that they will incur a tax penalty if they are not insured because of Obamacare’s individual mandate, so she encourages people to enroll in Covered California because “the government is giving you money to buy insurance” through a tax credit that is based on income level.

Weiyu Zhang’s next workshop will explain Medi-Cal estate recovery laws on February 11 from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. at the Chinatown Branch Library. The workshop will be conducted in English, Mandarin, and Cantonese.

Zhang works for the Health Access Project, which is a project of Asian Americans Advancing Justice – Los Angeles. Zhang’s clinic hours are Mondays from 5 to 8 p.m. and Thursdays from 2 to 5 p.m. at the Chinatown Branch Library, and Wednesdays from 5 to 8 p.m. at the Arcadia Public Library. Zhang speaks in English, Mandarin, and Cantonese. Email health@advancingjustice-la.org or call at 714-587-2050 for more information.

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