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‘We speak your language’ isn’t enough to get Chinese Americans insured

‘We speak your language’ isn’t enough to get Chinese Americans insured

Picture of Peiwen Jing

As a reporter who was born and raised in China, I had a hard time trying to figure out what my health insurance options were when I came to Los Angeles for graduate school. What was Obamacare? What was Covered California?

My own confusion about my health insurance options led me to propose a fellowship project on the challenge of insuring Chinese Americans in Los Angeles County.

Working as a general assignment TV reporter with a focus on the legislation and policies of Los Angeles city and county, I have followed many health policy-related stories and constantly heard policymakers and advocates talking about the low sign-up rates in Chinese American communities. When I asked questions about potential solutions for Chinese Americans’ low sign-up rate, a frequent answer was that all the programs will be equipped with Asian language speakers.

My work and life experience keep me wondering if the language barrier is truly the biggest challenge for Chinese Americans who want to get health insurance. The Chinese-language health care information brochures were of some help, but they didn’t really help one understand the U.S. health care system, especially for new Chinese immigrants who are “fresh off the boat” and know little about health care in the United States. There might be some other factors for the policymakers and healthcare advocacy groups to consider while trying to recruit more Chinese Americans to sign up for health care.

I will develop my 2016 California Fellowship project from the multiple perspectives of immigration communities, public health departments and health care advocacy groups. There will be individual stories from Chinese immigrants who didn't purchase health insurance and later faced financial challenge from medical bills. There will also be a special report on Chinese immigrants who came to the Los Angeles area and found that they were not eligible to purchase health insurance from Covered California, the state-operated marketplace, because they are undocumented. I will talk with health care advocacy groups to try to learn the challenges from their perspective and also get advice from them about the health care options for Chinese Americans with differing circumstances.

I also plan to look at the experience of San Francisco for comparison. The percentage of Chinese immigrants in San Francisco County is much higher than in Los Angeles County. I would like to explore whether the higher percentage of Chinese Americans in San Francisco has had an impact on the overall sign-up rate, as well as whether Southern California can learn from San Francisco’s experience.

My fellowship project will also discuss why it is important to get immigrant communities to understand health policy and then get involved. It is not only a question of providing benefits to the public; it is also a question of health policy literacy and health equity for different ethnic groups. I will travel to Sacramento, California’s state capital, for interviews and discussions with health policy makers and policy analysis groups.

The project will try to show the dimensions and complexity of health care in the Chinese American community and help my station’s Mandarin-speaking audience understand the differences between the health care systems of China and the United States. I hope it will help policymakers understand the importance of health care policy literacy in immigrant communities.

[Brochure pictured via Covered California.]


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