RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Rachel Martin. The Affordable Care Act was designed to expand access to health insurance for millions of Americans, but not everyone has gotten the message. In Minnesota, those most likely to lack insurance are Latinos. So, the state's insurance marketplace, known as MNsure has hired outreach workers to spread the word. Elizabeth Stawicki reports on the first sign-up events for Latinos.
ELIZABETH STAWICKI, BYLINE: When you have questions about health insurance, you may not necessarily think beauty salon, but Clarence Jones does. Jones is outreach director for Southside Community Health Services, one of the organizations that's sharing in a $4 million federal grant to provide the boots on the ground to explain what MNsure is about and how to sign up for coverage.
CLARENCE JONES: Barbershops and beauty shops are really one of the places where people come and they talk to trusted messengers. So, we know that people are concerned about their health. And so we wanted to establish some kind of relationships with barber shops and beauty shops so that we can give them information about how to access medical care, which is an issue in many communities.
STAWICKI: It's particularly an issue for Minnesota's Latinos, who are three times as likely as white residents to lack health insurance, making them an important target for outreach efforts. On a recent Saturday, Jones and about a half-dozen of his colleagues visit Karina's Beauty Salon in the heart of St. Paul's Latino community. They set up shop in a big white bus parked outside and squeezed into available niches in the salon to screen customers for health problems, give flu shots and spread the word about MNsure. They call it the clipper clinic. The salon's owner, Karina Cardoso, says 90 percent of her customers are Hispanic. She says most are like her - self-employed with no health insurance.
KARINA CARDOSO: When I talk to the clients, you know, there is a huge thing now with Obamacare, and I don't think that a lot of us know exactly, you know, what the Obamacare is.
STAWICKI: Southside Community Health Services worker Miguel Rivera is training to help people sign up for coverage. He says that confusion about the president's health care law is common among the people he sees.
MIGUEL RIVERA: They're totally confused. There's still a lot of information that the client has to get into it and navigate the system and - but people can do it.
STAWICKI: When the five-hour clinic is over, no one has signed up for health insurance. On board the bus, Southside Community health worker Heidi Benson wasn't discouraged. She says up to 40 percent of Latino patients at Southside's health clinics are in the country illegally, so they don't qualify. But even people who do qualify for coverage may not sign up to protect an undocumented family member. Benson said the clipper clinic at Karina's is only the first step in a continuing conversation about MNsure.
HEIDI BENSON: I think it opens up the ability for the conversation to broaden, so people who've been afraid or don't know what questions to ask, when they hear more information, start to understand that it's OK to ask any questions that they might have and hopefully get the answers that they need, to go forward and take care of themselves.
STAWICKI: Throughout the country, about 10.2 million Latinos are expected to qualify for health insurance under the Affordable Care Act. And outreach through trusted networks in the community, like the beauty salon, is critical to help reach Latinos, says Mayra Alvarez. She works for the federal Department of Health and Human Services.
MAYRA ALVAREZ: I think that's why you see that this first open-enrollment period is six months, is to allow people the time to ask those questions, to become familiar with the marketplace, to make an educated decision about health insurance. For a lot of people, this is going to be the first time they have access to health insurance.
STAWICKI: She says she hopes the Spanish version of HealthCare.gov, which is called CuidadoDeSalud.gov, will be ready to enroll people in a few weeks. For NPR News, I'm Elizabeth Stawicki in St. Paul.
MARTIN: That story was part of a collaboration among NPR, Minnesota Public Radio and Kaiser Health News.
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