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Coverage Helps Latinos Better Understand Health Care

Health care can be complicated – especially for the millions of newly insured consumers in California. Just understanding the terminology for getting covered can be intimidating. Making well-informed decisions about treatment, care, and well-being is essential in living a healthy life.

October is Health Literacy Month and aims to create greater awareness about the issue and give consumers a leg up as many begin to prepare for the start of the annual health coverage open enrollment period. This is an issue affecting many Latinos, especially those who are limited English speakers. A 2012 study revealed that nearly half (45.1%) of California’s limited English-speaking Latinos have low health proficiency levels.

Health literacy is the ability to understand coverage processes and terminology, as well as understanding clinical terms and interactions with medical providers. Preventive medicine is most effective when the insured understands care options and services. If consumers don’t understand what services they can or can’t receive, or the results the doctors deliver, users may become frustrated and abandon the coverage that could help them live a healthy life.

Getting coverage and visiting a doctor are key in boosting health literacy rates and improving Latinos’ health. Enrolling in coverage through Medi-Cal and Covered California is the first step to improve health outcomes – especially when consumers ask questions. Doctors, clinicians, and county staff can help navigate coverage.

In a National Council of La Raza study, Latinos reported that Medical professionals are the most common source for health information. However, more than one-quarter (28%) reported that they received no health information from a health care provider in the past year. By using the preventive services that health coverage guarantees, health literacy rates can improve.

Getting coverage starts with visiting to find a center near them where trained staff can help identify the appropriate health coverage – Medi-Cal,Covered California or other available options. These centers are where Latinos should ask questions about coverage and terminology that they may not understand. Starting to ask questions early is the key to building a better base of health care information.

“Without understanding health information, individuals struggle to manage their care or make smart decisions about health insurance.  Our research shows health literacy and technology literacy are inextricably linked.” According to CEO and President Tessie Guillermo of ZeroDivide, a mission-driven consulting from that works to improve economic opportunities, civic engagement and health for low-income and culturally diverse communities. “Many medically underserved individuals lack proficiency using computers and the web, stifling their ability to access the information and assistance available to them through health sites.

It is no surprise that those with low health literacy levels – including understanding terminology or health conditions – often do not prioritize their health. In the same 2012 survey, 45% of consumers with low health literacy reported the highest prevalence of poor health. Continuing to push consumers toward getting enrolled and utilizing their coverage will not only boost consumer health awareness, but will also create healthier communities around the state.

While medical professionals are the primary sources for information, 63 percent of Latinos receive their information from family and friends. It’s crucial, then, for communities to spread the word on the importance of local health centers and the upcoming enrollment period to understand the health system and receive the quality care they deserve.