State launches campaign to inform immigrants of health care options

LAWRENCE, Mass. — A new campaign targeting both Portuguese and Spanish speakers of Massachusetts seeks to inform business owners about the benefits of the Massachusetts Health Connector Program and how they can save money on their insurance costs.

“In the past two years, the Health Connector has achieved $103 million in savings in its program for low-to-moderate income adults,” said Governor Deval Patrick in a statement. “These savings have preserved eligibility and affordability for consumers even during challenging fiscal times. Our goal remains to expand access to coverage in every community.”

But officials with the program say the program is not reaching Spanish and Portuguese business owners as well as they would like.

Paulo Pinto, the Executive Director for the Massachusetts Alliance of Portuguese Speakers (MAPS), said the extent of how many businesses are not aware of the program and benefits remains to be seen.

“It is a very big problem,” said Pinto. “Small business owners are in large part still not insured. They think it is too expensive and they cannot afford it. Many times they say I will pay the fine or pay whenever I go. Then they try to apply for assistance once they go for an emergency room procedure and they cannot afford to pay for it. We are talking about little shops with one or two employees. Sometimes it is husband and wife with a part-time employee or two.”

The lack of connecting to these small businesses spurred the state to create a partnership with Health Care For All, which in turn has partnered with local organizations that reach the Portuguese and Spanish markets. From MAPS to the Immigrants’ Assistance Center in New Bedford to the Brazilian Immigrants Center and the Brazilian Women’s Center, organizations are offering information and outreach to immigrants confused as to what their best healthy option is.

Organizations are going door-to-door handing out leaflets and targeting small businesses. Each organization has a goal of how many businesses it must reach. For the Massachusetts Alliance of Portuguese Speakers, their individual goal is 350 businesses.

In all, roughly 1,000 business are being targeted. What remains unclear is how many businesses are still in the dark about the benefits of the Health Care Connector.

“We don’t know how big is the problem,” said Pinto. “We know it is pretty big. We have seen small business owners come in and try to apply for individual insurance for themselves. As an organization, we have been doing health insurance enrollment for the past three years. We enrolled thousands of individuals. We were to enroll individuals, not necessarily business owners. But business owners came in and we saw the challenges they were facing. There were a lot of people still operating under lots of misconceptions. The insurance through the connector, depending upon the size of your business, you can qualify for lower costs and lower rates as a whole. By buying it through the Connector, it is more affordable.”

The program offers small businesses a large number of affordable plans. It also offers a wellness program specifically designed for businesses with fewer than 25 employees, which offers up to a 15 percent rebate on premium costs.

Health Care for All is also providing a helpline (1-800-272-4232), which is being staffed by Spanish and Portuguese-speaking counselors. They will provide information on subsidized and unsubsidized health care options.


Groups participating in the program


Brazilian Women’s Group, Allston, Mass.


Brazilian Immigrant Center, Allston, Mass.


Camara dos Dirigentes Lojistas e Empreendedores, Lowell, Mass.


Center for Women and Enterprise, Boston, Mass.


Educationist Movement USA, Worcester, Mass.


Immigrants’ Assistance Center, New Bedford, Mass.


Hispanic-American Chamber of Commerce, Boston, Mass,


Massachusetts Alliance for Portuguese Speakers


(Brighton, Cambridge, Dorchester, Framingham, Lowell, Somerville)


Massachusetts Latino Chamber of Commerce


(Boston, Holyoke, Lawrence, Springfield, Worcester)


North Shore Latino Business Association, Lynn, Mass.

About the program:

Established in 2006, the Massachusetts Health Connector helps Massachusetts residents find affordable, quality health care. More than 400,000 Massachusetts residents have gained health coverage since the Commonwealth’s historic enactment of health care reform, and nearly 240,000 obtain health insurance through the Massachusetts Health Connector. Massachusetts leads the nation in the percentage of residents with health insurance, with more than 98 percent of people covered.

The Health Connector received funding from the U. S. Department of Health and Human Services to conduct outreach to minority communities and awarded Health Care for All (HCFA) a $1.25 million contract to conduct a needs assessment of Spanish- and Portuguese-speaking small businesses, conduct public outreach, provide assistance to consumers through its HelpLine, track inquiries, and provide support for insurance appeals through Health Law Advocates, Inc<>.