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STUDY: Over 100,000 Californians Likely to Miss Out on Health Care Due to Language Barriers

For Immediate Release
Wednesday, February 29, 2012

STUDY: Over 100,000 Californians Likely to Miss Out on Health Care Due to Language Barriers

OAKLAND, Calif. – Language barriers could deter more than 100,000 Californians from enrolling in the Health Benefit Exchange (Exchange), according to a study released today by the California Pan-Ethnic Health Network (CPEHN), the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research, and the UC Berkeley Center for Labor Research and Education. 

The study presents findings from a UC Berkeley-UCLA micro-simulation study that estimates the likely enrollment in health care reform programs in California. Specifically, the study projects that over 1 million limited-English proficient (LEP) adults will be eligible to receive tax credits to purchase affordable coverage in the Health Benefit Exchange, which expands access to affordable health coverage in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA).

However, only 42 percent of eligible LEP adults are expected to enroll in the program.

"The evidence suggests that Californians who do not speak English very well are at a disadvantage in terms of accessing health care reform programs," said Daphna Gans, a research scientist at the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research and the lead author of the study. 

The UC model shows that if language is not a barrier, participation by LEP adults could increase to 53 percent, a difference of approximately 110,000 individuals. 

“These are difficult times for California families and ensuring every Californian has access to quality, affordable healthcare is vital for our economic recovery,” said Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez, who authored legislation (AB1602) in 2010 establishing the Exchange. “The Health Benefit Exchange will help lower the cost of health insurance for every Californian, but it’s vital for every eligible Californian to enroll to ensure we bring healthcare costs down as much as possible for California’s working families.”

In California, more than 15 million residents speak a language other than English at home and nearly half (7 million) of them have limited proficiency in English. The study shows the importance of adopting a diverse strategy for outreach and education. 

"The Exchange is a key opportunity to make Californians healthier," said Ellen Wu, executive director of CPEHN. "We have to do this right. Our success in implementing this new program will be measured not just by the number of people enrolled, but by the state’s ability to reach those who are most often left behind. We have to target resources through multicultural and multilingual outreach to ensure that communities of color who are eligible, particularly people who speak English less than very well, enroll in coverage." 

The study was conducted based on analyses using the California Simulation of Insurance Markets (CalSIM) model, a micro-simulation developed by UCLA and UC Berkeley researchers, which uses a range of official data sources (including the California Health Interview Survey) to estimate the impact of various elements of the ACA on employer decisions to offer insurance coverage and individual decisions to obtain coverage in California.

The development of the model was supported through funding by The California Endowment, the California Health Benefit Exchange and CPEHN. Read the study, Achieving Equity by Building a Bridge from Eligible to Insured

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The California Pan-Ethnic Health Network (CPEHN), celebrating 20 years as a champion for health equity, works to eliminate health disparities by advocating for public policies and sufficient resources to address the health needs of communities of color.

The UCLA Center for Health Policy Research is one of the nation's leading health policy research centers and the premier source of health policy information for California.

The UC Berkeley Center for Labor Research and Education is a public service and outreach program of the UC Berkeley Institute for Research on Labor and Employment that conducts research and education on issues related to labor and employment.