By Kelly Keiter
SALT LAKE CITY – The latest open enrollment period for federal health care is coming to a close on Feb. 15, and the U.S. government is trying to get the word out to specific minority groups to sign up.
Data indicates 8.4 percent of Utahns are foreign born and one-fourth of America’s Tongan population lives in Utah, but many people in these communities do not know about government-funded programs.
“There’s not a lot of services for Asian-Americans because of the model minority myth that they don’t need help and stuff, when there’s this group that really needs services,” said Merissa Makamura, a student at the University of Utah.
On Saturday, community leaders, members of the U.S. Department of Health, and a group called Take Care Utah gathered at the Salt Lake Government Center to tell Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders about government assisted programs.
“We are trying to look at potential barriers and see ways we can break down those barriers and a lot of that is one-on-one connections,” said Kim Gillan, regional director for the U.S. Department of Health.
The Center for American Progress reports one in every six Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders was uninsured before the Affordable Care Act was implemented. After the first round of enrollment, more signed up--but 1.3 million people in these communities are still uninsured.
Gillan said the biggest reasons these groups don’t have health insurance seem to be language barriers, financial concerns or not knowing where to find information. Officials are encouraging people who are uninsured to visit with a Take Care Utah representative. They offer free translators and other services to help people get the assistance they need.
“We’re coming together as a group,” said Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill. “It’s an opportunity to start a community dialogue, to talk about the emerging needs of the state of Utah in these particular groups and the common themes they can address as we go into the next 10 or 20 years.”
Salt Lake City resident Ko Netzler immigrated from Samoa 25 years ago. She said she's grateful recent arrivals are getting more help.
“[In] our younger generations, the numbers have climbed substantially since we arrived in 1990, and definitely there’s a need, so that they’ll understand how the system works,” Netlzer said.
Those who were unable to attend these discussions can still visit the Take Care Utah website to find resources near them.