Teresa Woon receives healthcare information at a Lake Forest event. • Photo by Tony Dondero
Teresa Woon receives healthcare information at a Lake Forest event. • Photo by Tony Dondero


Despite the technical glitches on healthcare exchange websites since the rollout of “Obamacare,” thousands of people in Washington state have already signed up.

As of Friday, October 25, more than 140,000 people in Washington state have either enrolled or completed applications for what is officially known as the Affordable Care Act (ACA), according to the latest report by the Washington Health Benefit Exchange. Applicants who filled out the proper paperwork and qualified have until December 23 to make their first payment.

Language barriers, however, are still a major obstacle for Asian and Pacific Islanders (APIs) who may qualify for health insurance under the ACA. Government health services have been working with nonprofit organizations such as International Community Health Services and Asian Counseling and Referral Service to get APIs the accurate information they need to see if Obamacare is right for them.

King County’s Community Health Services Division (CHSD) has been coordinating a series of four special events featuring in-person signups and opportunities to meet with insurers. About 200 people attended an event sponsored by Seattle-King County Public Health on Saturday, October 19 at Crossroads Mall in Bellevue. Nearly 90 signed up for insurance. Previous county-sponsored events were held at Garfield Community Center in Seattle and Third Place Commons in Lake Forest Park, where several hundred more signed up.

The final event in the series happens on Saturday, November 9 from 1:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. at Kent Memorial Park Building, 850 N. Central Ave. in Kent. Translators have been on hand at previous events in variety of languages, including Mandarin and Vietnamese.

The goal is to enroll 93,000 people in King County over the next year, said CHSD director Patty Hayes. The initial signup period was intended to go from October 1, 2013 to March 31, 2014. Democrats in Congress, however, are proposing to extend the signup period further into 2014 because of the problems experienced with healthcare exchange websites.

Beginning January 1, 2014, if someone doesn’t have a health plan that qualifies as minimum essential coverage under the ACA, he or she may have to pay a fee that increases every year, according to Healthcare.gov, a federal government website managed by the U.S. Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services. The website has links to resources in Chinese, Korean, Vietnamese, French, Spanish, Polish, and Portugeuse.

Those who sign up for healthcare by December 23 will have their coverage by January 1.

The fee for not having healthcare increases from 1 percent of income (or $95 per adult, whichever is higher) in 2014 to 2.5 percent of income (or $695 per adult) in 2016. The fee for children is half the adult amount. The fee is paid on the 2014 federal income tax form, which is completed in 2015. People with very low incomes may be eligible for waivers.

One of the challenges for some immigrant populations is persuading them to buy into the concept of preventative care in the first place, Hayes said.

“Sometimes there’s no word in the language to define or explain ‘preventative care’ and the benefits of it,” Hayes said.

Washington State Representative Cindy Ryu (D-Shoreline) said there are some people within Puget Sounds’ Korean community who are decidedly against signing up for healthcare. In particular, she is referring to owners of mom-and-pop businesses who do not have health insurance and believe they can go back to South Korea to access its national health care system when they need to.

“They are using that as a backup, but not everyone can hop on a plane [back to South Korea],” Ryu said.

Ryu said she is concerned about those who choose not to sign up for healthcare because certain diseases, such as Hepatitis B, are common in Washington’s Korean community.

“It’s been devastating,” Ryu said.

People who get sick sometimes wait too long to get medical care and don’t make it back to South Korea, Ryu explained.


Despite the many reasons that APIs may have to forego signing up for healthcare, there are those who are taking advantage of the in-person signup events.
North Seattle resident Teresa Woon, who is retired after working at Seattle television station Q13 as an executive assistant, signed up at the Lake Forest Park event on October 12.

Woon, 59, said she qualified for the Medicaid version of the program, because she has a low income. Her house is paid off and she lives off savings and some investment income, she said.

Woon said she currently has an individual plan through Regence, but the cost of that plan is increasing from $390 a month to $525 with a $5,000 annual deductible, which is why she came to sign up. While she likes her current Preferred Provider Organization (PPO) and choice of doctors, Woon said she is a bit wary of Medicaid, which she believes is more like a Health Maintenance Organization (HMO).

She also wondered about a person in her position enrolling in Medicaid, even though she qualified.
“I have assets,” she said. “It’s not right to take advantage of a totally free coverage when people [without those assets] need full coverage.”

Bob Than, a Lynnwood resident who originally immigrated from Burma, also signed up for healthcare at the Lake Forest Park event. Than is a self-employed entrepreneur who previously operated restaurants. Now he is unemployed after closing a business.
Than was looking for healthcare for himself and his wife and signed up for a Molina Healthcare Plan through Group Health. He said he found it easy to sign up in person.

“King County is doing a good job having these sessions,” Than said. “It’s helping.”

Than said he noticed King County has more options than Snohomish County, where he lives.

“We’d like to see more in Pierce and Snohomish [counties],” he said.

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