New York State’s efforts to expand the reach of health insurance will be successful only if people know about it and can access it easily.
But so far, that’s not happening everywhere.
In neighborhoods across NYC, one-fifth of residents didn’t have health insurance in 2014, according to a report by city Comptroller Scott Stringer. They’re in communities like Jackson Heights and Sunnyside, Bushwick and Flushing, where immigrant families settle, where many don’t speak English, and where some still rely on hospital emergency rooms for their care.
The statistics come as the Affordable Care Act expands health insurance efforts nationwide, and New York’s marketplace provides insurance that was once elusive. Yet, nearly 1 million city residents lacked health insurance last year. There’s no data for 2015, but even if the numbers improved slightly, it’s not enough. We need to do better. Open enrollment started Nov. 1, and will close at the end of January. City residents must know their options and how to obtain and keep their coverage. Often, they’ll need help completing the application, developing a payment plan, and understanding the logistics of using insurance.
Both the city and state have to do more. The website for New York’s insurance marketplace doesn’t translate into any language beyond Spanish; it just has a phone number to call for translated assistance. Multi-lingual versions of the site are needed. City and state outreach must grow, too. Nonprofits and local officials familiar with ethnic enclaves must expand their efforts. Public hospitals, where many of the uninsured seek treatment, are prime spots to identify and assist families. City officials can also assuage fears of legal immigrants worried their participation could hurt undocumented family members. There has to be education to prevent consumers from failing to pay or renew. Finally, word has to get out about the new Essential Plan, which costs from $0 to $20 a month, and is aimed at those with lower incomes.
These efforts must be maintained until everyone is reached. Encompassing the city’s diverse communities in the drive for universal health care will be less expensive than the revolving doors of emergency rooms. And it makes for better lives and a healthier New York.