6: No. 4, October 2009
COMMUNITY CASE STUDY
The Latino Health Insurance
Program: A Pilot Intervention for Enrolling Latino Families in Health Insurance Programs, East Boston, Massachusetts, 2006-2007
Milagros Abreu, MD, MPH; H. Patricia Hynes, MS, MA
Suggested citation for this article: Abreu M, Hynes HP.
The Latino Health Insurance Program: a pilot intervention for enrolling Latino families in health insurance programs, East Boston, Massachusetts, 2006-2007. Prev Chronic Dis 2009;6(4):A129.
oct/08_0125.htm. Accessed [date].
Thirteen percent of Latinos in Massachusetts lack health insurance, the highest rate of any ethnic or racial group. Families without health insurance are more likely to be in poor or fair health, to lack a regular medical provider, and to
not have visited a medical provider in the past year.
The Latino Health Insurance Program is designed as a response both to the high rate of uninsurance among Latinos in Boston and to the multiple obstacles that keep Latino parents from applying
for insurance for their families.
In 2006, we designed and implemented a culturally competent model of health insurance outreach, education, enrollment and maintenance, and referral for primary care and social services for Latino families.
Year 1 results of the Latino Health Insurance Program are promising. Six community members were
hired and trained as case managers. A total of 230 children and adults were enrolled or re-enrolled in health insurance programs and received other needed services.
Retention was near 100% after 1 year.
The Latino Health Insurance Program may serve as a model health insurance access program that can be adapted by community-based organizations and also
can be incorporated into public agency programs for Latinos and other immigrant and minority groups. The program continues to serve East Boston residents and was expanded in 2008.
Back to top
More than 8.5 million children in the United States do not have health insurance, putting them at risk of untreated illnesses and lack of preventive care (1).
Most uninsured children are poor and immigrant (2).The proportion of Latino children who are uninsured is 21%, higher than for any other ethnic or racial group (1). In 1997, Congress created the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) and allocated $39 billion to states to provide health insurance
coverage for uninsured children. On December 29, 2007, President Bush signed legislation to extend SCHIP through March 2009, after having vetoed a bill that would have included an additional $35 billion over 5 years to cover more uninsured children.
On February 4, 2009, President Obama signed a law expanding SCHIP to include 4
million uninsured children. Given the existence of this program, it is necessary to understand why so many Latino children are uninsured and what impediments they face
to getting health insurance (3). Developing and testing models of insuring Latino children and their families in
available health programs are essential and require knowledge of the obstacles
that keep eligible families from enrolling in health insurance.
Massachusetts has many programs to reduce the number of residents without health insurance. Nonetheless, a larger percentage of Latinos (13%)
than whites (5%) are uninsured (5%) (4). Latinos are the largest minority group in Massachusetts; they constitute more than 7% of the state population and almost 15% of the population of Boston (5). Demographic characteristics of many urban neighborhoods have changed substantially
in the past 20 years. For example, in the East Boston
neighborhood, the nonwhite population grew from 4% in 1980 to 50% in 2000, and nearly 40% of its residents are Latinos. Recent studies indicate that the rate of uninsured Latino children (37%) in East Boston
is the highest in the city of Boston (3).
Consequences of being uninsured
Not having health insurance has consequences for health, health care, and
medical costs. Children without health insurance are more likely to be in poor or fair health, to lack a regular medical provider, and to
not have visited a medical provider in the past year (6,7). They are more likely to use critical health care services and less likely to use primary and preventive health care services than
are insured children (6,7). Uninsured parents often postpone seeking medical
treatment for themselves and their children, which can have serious and costly consequences (8). A child treated early for uncomplicated appendicitis can be released from the hospital in 2 days,
at a cost of approximately $8,000. A child admitted for a perforated appendix may have a hospital stay of 7 to 10 days, which costs an estimated $100,000 more (8).
Latinos without health insurance are more likely to use the emergency
to visit a doctor’s office (9). Unnecessary use of emergency services is responsible for high charges to the Massachusetts Health Safety Net, formerly known as the Uncompensated Care Pool, which pays for medically necessary services provided by hospitals and community health centers to low-income uninsured and underinsured residents. Costs charged to the Uncompensated Care Pool for a
computed tomographic scan
ranged from $359
to $4,401 in 2003 (10). In 2001, US hospitals provided $23.6 billion in uncompensated health care (11). The same year, providers submitted invoices for approximately $35 billion for which they received $30.6 billion from government sources, either through direct subsidies or reimbursement (11).
Uninsured people die prematurely and experience poorer quality of services
than do insured people (12). The Institute of Medicine estimates that
approximately 18,000 deaths per year are attributable to lack of health insurance (12) because uninsured people are less likely to use preventive services, to have a regular source of care, and to benefit from early treatment and diagnosis. Latinos in the United States who are younger than 65
years and who have chronic diseases such as diabetes are less connected to the health care system than
members of non-Latino groups and less likely to use it effectively or to feel confident in it to manage their medical conditions (9).
Barriers to obtaining health insurance
Poor health literacy affects people who are older, immigrants, poor, or poorly educated (3). A recent study found that Latino parents in Boston had difficulty obtaining health insurance coverage for their children because of lack of information and misconceptions. Parents did not understand the eligibility criteria and application process for MassHealth (which administers Medicaid and other public health insurance programs for Massachusetts residents) or the Children’s
Medical Security Plan, which covers children who are not eligible for MassHealth, including those whose immigration status is undocumented (3). Parents also reported language barriers and the complexity of the application process as obstacles to applying (3).
Another barrier to health obtaining insurance for immigrants is their concern about immigration status (13). Some have reported being apprehensive that using health benefits may diminish their chance of gaining citizenship or their relatives’ likelihood of being allowed to immigrate to the United States (13). Fear of being reported to immigration authorities by a health service provider is another obstacle identified by undocumented Latino immigrants and one that would deter them from enrolling
in health insurance (14).
Back to top
We report the results of the 1-year pilot of the Latino Health Insurance Program (LHIP), a health insurance enrollment program that employs trusted local community leaders as case managers (14) and uses culturally specific methods of outreach and education in the Latino community of East Boston, Massachusetts. The LHIP is based on models that have been used successfully in other community health contexts to improve risk factors, health care use, and medical professional and lay communication
(15,16). However, the program is unique in Massachusetts for its use of community health workers to enroll Latino immigrants in health insurance and connect enrolled families with needed services.
The program initially targeted East Boston because it is home to the largest Latino population in Boston. Our results are from the 1-year pilot of the LHIP pilot program, from April 2006 to May 2007.
Back to top
We describe the methods used to accomplish the following LHIP activities:
- Recruit and train community leaders as case managers in health insurance programs.
- Use culturally competent approaches to reach and recruit uninsured immigrants.
- Provide health insurance eligibility education and enrollment for recruited immigrant residents.
- Follow up with families to help them maintain health coverage and use primary care and other social and legal services.
- Engage local primary care providers and health agencies to create a network for primary care referrals.
- Document program results.
Community leaders as case managers
The program director (M.A.) posted written notices to recruit case managers in 2 East Boston public housing developments. Referrals from community agencies were also used to identify and recruit residents with leadership qualities for the program. Recommendations from community members were given high consideration. The program director interviewed and selected case managers to
ensure that the mix of case managers reflected the countries of origin of Latino residents.
The program director organized training and ongoing inservice education for the case managers.
Outreach with cultural specificity
The program team, consisting of case managers and the program director, visited public housing developments in East Boston, where they knocked on residents’ doors and explained the LHIP. Families were invited to participate in
educational sessions. The program team conducted similar outreach at community sites that are ideal for face-to-face information sharing, including bodegas, beauty salons,
self-service laundries, restaurants, automobile repair shops, gas stations, and churches (14,17). All oral and
written communication was available in Spanish and English.
Education, enrollment, and follow-up
After outreach and recruitment began, educational sessions were held on 2 evenings per month for 5 consecutive months at trusted community locations (including 2 community rooms of the housing developments and local churches) and at times convenient for participants. Child care and a meal with
ethnically appropriate food were provided. The program director led the sessions in Spanish with assistance from representatives of state advocacy agencies that work with immigrants and from state officials who
discussed the new Massachusetts health law (18) and the 2 new health insurance plans offered by the state, Commonwealth Care and Commonwealth Choice (18).
Before the educational sessions, attendees were interviewed to determine whether they were eligible for health insurance. The educational session lasted 2 hours. Case managers helped eligible families who wished to enroll for health insurance to apply at the end of each session. Follow-up help was provided at a local church office if participants did not have the required documentation or the application was not completed at the session. The case managers scheduled one-on-one visits with
participants, when necessary, to complete applications and collect required documentation; they then sent completed forms electronically to MassHealth for coverage determination. MassHealth determines who qualifies for state entitlement programs, including Medicaid, the Children’s Medical Security Plan, Commonwealth Care, or the Health Safety Net (see
Appendix for details on health insurance programs). Case managers completed online applications through the
Commonwealth Connector Web site (www.mahealthconnector.org) for families and individuals with an income above 300% of
the federal poverty level, who were not eligible for these 4 state entitlement programs.
Network of referrals
The LHIP established direct communication with the East Boston Community Health Center and the Boston Public Health Commission to assure ease of referral and primary care provision for newly enrolled Latinos. The LHIP also linked residents with programs that address domestic violence, senior services, food stamps, fuel assistance, and legal services.
The LHIP documented the following outcomes of its 1-year pilot:
- Number of children and families who were successfully enrolled or re-enrolled in public health insurance programs after parent educational sessions.
- Number of children and families who maintained their insurance during 7 months of follow-up and number of referrals to primary care providers.
- Number of referrals to other services.
Back to top
Community leaders as case managers
Thirteen East Boston Latino residents were recruited and interviewed by the program director. Of the 6 chosen as case managers, 2 had medical or clinical experience, 3 had community organizing experience, and 1 was a pastor. They came from the major Latin American subgroups in Massachusetts and East Boston and included 1 Puerto Rican, 3 Dominicans, 1 Salvadoran, and 1 Colombian. All case managers worked 8 hours per week.
The MassHealth educational unit trained case managers on MassHealth and the Children’s Medical Security Plan, and the LHIP program director organized research-based
training on the obstacles for Latino families to enroll in health care (3). Case managers then received 1 week of supervised on-the-job training by the program director. Inservice training consisted of ongoing supervision by the program director, forums on the new Massachusetts health reform law and its Commonwealth Care
program, and updates on MassHealth.
Outreach with cultural specificity
Knocking on doors at the East Boston housing developments and the face-to-face invitation to participate in the educational session at trusted community sites proved successful at attracting residents to the education and enrollment sessions. Local churches provided space for
educational sessions and made referrals to the program, adding to the success of recruitment. An additional point of recruitment
was the Salvadoran consulate; Salvadorans have been identified in previous
studies as the most uninsured group in the East Boston neighborhood (17). The management offices of the East Boston housing development also referred families to the LHIP. Finally, word of mouth among enrolled residents brought other residents.
Education, enrollment, and follow-up
During the year-long pilot program, 104 of 130 adults and all 100 children were determined to be eligible and were enrolled in state-subsidized and nonsubsidized health insurance programs, the largest subgroups being Dominican and Salvadoran by country of origin and citizens and undocumented immigrants by civic status (Table 1). All children were enrolled in either MassHealth or the Children’s Medical Security Plan. More than 70% of the adults signed up for health insurance
programs after educational sessions. The remainder signed up during office visits to the LHIP after being referred by other participants.
Twenty percent of the adults were ineligible for any type of insurance coverage, and they were assisted in receiving services through the Uncompensated Care Pool offered at their local health center or hospital (Table 2).
Network of referrals
A total of 123 households were assisted with obtaining primary care providers
and social services. Newly enrolled East Boston residents who did not have a
provider were referred to the East Boston Neighborhood Health Center to choose a
health care provider for their children and themselves and to be seen for
primary care, if necessary. The case managers referred newly insured residents
from outside the East Boston neighborhood to the Boston Public Health Commission
for primary care and for additional programs when needed, such as domestic
violence shelter or senior services. Case managers also electronically enrolled
eligible participants into the state food stamp program, now known as the
Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. For fuel assistance, participants
were referred to a local agency that helps eligible families pay their electric
and gas bills during winter; for legal representation in medical disputes,
especially given the uncertainty about the new health law in Massachusetts, they were
referred to Health Law Advocates, pro bono attorneys. Case managers helped residents to apply for Social Security assistance for their eligible disabled children and to enroll in citizenship classes if they wished to change their immigration status
The LHIP documented the numbers and characteristics of enrollees, the types of health insurance received, and referrals for health and social services (Tables 1-3). The program tracked families as they moved and maintained follow-up with nearly all participants over the course of the year to assure that they stayed enrolled in health insurance plans and that they received needed services.
Back to top
The efforts of Massachusetts and Boston to insure Latino immigrants must overcome fear, inadequate information, low wages, lack of employers that offer health insurance to Latino residents, and frequent change of address. Many Latinos are fearful of government because of their immigration status (13). Others lack adequate information about eligibility requirements for public insurance programs, given the complexity of the requirements and the reluctance of Latinos to seek out government authorities for information (3). Additional impediments to
obtaining health insurance reported by Latino clients who enrolled through the LHIP are that they work for low wages for employers that
do not offer medical coverage and
that they cannot afford to pay for it themselves. Even if they worked for employers that offer medical insurance, some LHIP participants reported that they could not afford their portion of insurance premiums. Some participants reported being afraid to accrue high medical bills and avoided seeking medical care. Others reported that they thought working full-time made them ineligible to apply for publicly supported medical insurance for themselves or their children.
Inability to track enrollees because of change of address has been a major issue for Boston’s health insurance enrollment program, known as the Mayor’s Health Line.
Applications are often closed without final approval because of the difficulty in collecting the necessary documentation for MassHealth to make the final determination
of eligibility for health coverage (19). The primary reason that MassHealth stops medical coverage is the inability of the insured party to verify current Massachusetts residency (Appendix).
Some families in the LHIP reported having moved 5 times in less than 1 year.
The case manager’s rapport with families, specifically, using well-trained and trusted community members, is a key component of the LHIP’s success. Other elements in the LHIP that appear to have overcome many of these obstacles to create a successful insurance enrollment program for Latinos include
- Conducting educational outreach in relevant community places.
- Holding sessions at convenient times for participants.
- Providing child care and a meal at sessions.
- Developing a network of referrals based on the needs of participants.
- Sustaining contact with the newly enrolled family.
These are methods used successfully by community health workers in other health contexts (15,16). The LHIP has employed them with good results for health insurance outreach and enrollment, primary care referral, and sustained follow-up.
Conclusion and recommendations
We cannot generalize from this pilot intervention program in the Latino community of East Boston to other underinsured populations of racial and ethnic minorities, particularly
regarding the methods and messages of outreach and recruitment. All populations with high rates of underinsurance should be reached
by using models, methods, and messages that are culturally relevant. We suggest that the optimal programs to fulfill government responsibility for assuring access to state-sponsored
programs are ones that arise from partnerships between a municipal health agency and community-based advocacy groups.
During the pilot program, the LHIP partnered with the Boston Public Health Commission, the Massachusetts Immigration and Refugee Advocate Coalition, Health Law Advocates, and the East Boston Neighborhood Health Center to
ensure that newly insured Latinos
were linked with local health providers and social and legal services and advocates. These partnerships also provide the health agencies and institutions with a culturally and linguistically competent community partner in the mutual goal of
improving primary health care and social services to all community members.
After the pilot program, the LHIP model was adapted by the Boston Public Health Commission for use in Safe Shops, an occupational and environmental health education and outreach program to Latino-owned automobile repair shops. The LHIP also trained Massachusetts members of the Brazilian American Association to use its model in the Brazilian community.
The program continues to serve East Boston residents and was expanded in 2008 to
Framingham, in suburban Boston.
Local health agencies, health care providers, and foundations with a family health mission can partner with community-based programs such as the LHIP that are more strategic, proficient, and nimble in outreach, education, and recruitment. With culturally competent partners, health agencies and providers can focus on providing effective primary care and prevention programs for newly insured residents.
Back to top
We thank the John Henry Family Foundation, which supported the LHIP pilot in East Boston; the Iglesia Cristiana Nueva Vida, which has hosted the program and absorbs additional costs as a social service to this community; Holy Redeemer Church for providing outreach and meeting space; the First Hispanic Academy for volunteers and supplies; all of the partners for their support; and the community of East Boston for its involvement and commitment. Work on this project and article
was supported in part by Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (grant no. 5 U48 DP000058-03) through the Partners in Health and Housing Prevention Research Center at Boston University School of Public Health.
Back to top
Corresponding Author: Milagros Abreu, MD, MPH, Boston University, School of Public Health, 715 Albany St, T421-E, Boston,
MA 02118. Telephone: 617-638-6727. E-mail:
Author Affiliation: H. Patricia Hynes, Boston University, Boston, Massachusetts.
Back to top
- DeNavas-Walt C, Proctor BD, Mills RJ. Income, poverty, and health insurance coverage in the United States: 2003. Washington (DC): US Census Bureau; 2004. http://www.census.gov/prod/2004pubs/p60-226.pdf. Accessed June 1, 2009.
- Holahan J, Ghosh A. The economic downturn and changes in health insurance coverage, 2000-2003. Washington (DC): The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation; 2004.
- Flores G, Abreu M, Brown V, Tomany-Korman SC.
How Medicaid and the State Children’s Health Insurance Program can do a better job of insuring uninsured children: the perspectives of parents of uninsured Latino children. Ambul Pediatr 2005;5(6):332-40.
- Lischko A. Health insurance status of Massachusetts residents. 5th ed. Boston (MA): Division of Health Care Finance and Policy; 2006. http://www.mass.gov/Eeohhs2/docs/dhcfp/r/survey/res_06_report_5th.pdf. Accessed May 6, 2009.
- US Census Bureau. Historical health insurance tables. Table HI-5: health insurance coverage status and type of coverage by state: 1987 to 2005. http://blueprod.ssd.census.gov/hhes/www/hlthins/ historic/hlthin05/hihistt5.html. Accessed May 6, 2009.
- Newacheck PW, McManus MA.
Health insurance status of adolescents in the United States. Pediatrics 1989;84(4):699-708.
- Newacheck PW, Stoddard JJ, Hughes DC, Pearl M.
Health insurance and access to primary care for children. N Engl J Med 1998;338(8):513-9.
- Deep in the heart of Texas: uninsured children in the Lone Star State. Washington (DC): FamiliesUSA; 1999. http//www.familiesusa.org/resources/publications/reports/deep-in-the-heart-of-texas.html. Accessed May 6, 2009.
- Doty MM, Holmgren AL. Health care disconnect: gaps in coverage and care for minority adults. New York (NY): The Commonwealth Fund; 2006. http://www.commonwealthfund.org/Content/Publications/Issue-Briefs/2006/Aug/Health-Care-Disconnect--Gaps-in-Coverage-and-Care-for-Minority-Adults--Findings-from-the-Commonwealt.aspx. Accessed May 6, 2009.
- Free care an issue [editorial]. Boston Herald. November 14, 2005.
- Holahan J, Bovbjerg R, Hadley J. Caring for the uninsured in Massachusetts: what does it cost, who pays and what would full coverage add to medical spending? Washington (DC): Urban Institute; 2006.
http://www.bcbsmafoundation.org/foundationroot/en_US/ documents/roadmapReport.pdf. Accessed May 6, 2009.
- Davis K. The cost and consequences of being uninsured. Medical Care Res Rev 2003;60(2):89S-99S.
- Capps R, Fix M, Ost J, Reardon-Anderson J, Passel JS. The health and well-being of young children and immigrants. Washington (DC): Urban Institute; 2004. http://www.urbaninstitute.org/UploadedPDF/ 311139_ChildrenImmigrants.pdf. Accessed April 29, 2009.
- Flores G, Abreu M, Chaisson C, Meyers A, Sachdeva RC, Fernandez H, et al.
A randomized controlled trial of the effectiveness of community-based case management in insuring uninsured Latino children. Pediatrics 2005;116(6);1433-41.
- Swider SM.
Outcome effectiveness of community health workers: an integrative literature review. Public Health Nurs 2002;19(1):11-20.
- Nemcek MA, Sabatier R.
State of evaluation: community health workers. Public Health Nurs 2003;20(4):260-70.
- Flores G, Abreu M, Santana J, Kastner B. Some answers to why the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) is not reaching enough uninsured children: barriers to health care access and insurance for Latino children. Pediatric Res 2001;49:467 A.
- Massachusetts health care reform: 2007/2008 progress report. Boston (MA): Commonwealth Connector; 2008. http://www.mahealthconnector.org/portal/binary/ com.epicentric.contentmanagement.servlet.ContentDeliveryServlet/ Health%2520Care%2520Reform/Overview/2007-2008%2520Progress%2520Report.pdf. Accessed May 6, 2009.
- Mayor’s Health Line follow-up survey. Boston (MA): Boston Public Health Commission; 2002.
Back to top