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Language, tech barriers said to hinder Obamacare enrollees from proving citizenship


By Paul Demko
Posted: August 28, 2014 - 12:15 pm ET
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Roughly 300,000 people who purchased health plans through the federal exchange face a Sept. 5 deadline to provide proof of their citizenship or immigration status or risk losing coverage at the end of the month. But immigrant advocacy groups are warning that many of them have been stymied from providing the appropriate documentation by technical problems and language barriers.

Many people could lose coverage even though they have done nothing wrong and are eligible for enrollment, the advocates say.

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“In some instances, consumers have submitted documentation time and time again, but yet are still being required to submit the same documentation over again,” Marielena Hincapiť, executive director of the National Immigration Law Center, said Wednesday.

There are also persistent problems with uploading documents to HealthCare.gov, said Elizabeth Colvin, director of Insure Central Texas, which helped 10,000 people enroll in coverage this year, roughly half of whom are Spanish-language speakers. “It worked sporadically, which was almost more frustrating because we didn't know when it was going to work or when it wouldn't,” Colvin said.

The CMS did not respond to a request for comment.

Amy Jones, health and social services director for Philadelphia-based Southeast Asian Mutual Assistance Associations Coalition, said the group has called all 450 families that it helped enroll in coverage to alert them to the issue. The organization has also translated the English-language letter sent out by the CMS into Chinese, Vietnamese and Nepalese to inform clients about the looming deadline.

“People do not know what they say or that they are important,” Jones said of the communications from the CMS. “Many have been putting them aside or throwing them away.”

In addition, Jones said many clients are getting frozen out of their online accounts because their passwords for Healthcare.Gov were changed for security reasons after the open enrollment period ended. That's been compounded by the fact that many of the group's clients aren't computer savvy and have lost their user names or don't know the answers to security questions.

“We've kind of been giving up on getting them back into their account,” Jones said. “Right now, we're pretty much calling the helpline and mailing in documents.”

According to the National Immigration Law Center, nearly a third of the 300,000 problematic accounts are for individuals living in Florida, and roughly 50,000 are Texas residents. The questionable applications are only for the 34 states that relied on HealthCare.gov for enrollments. It's unclear how many individuals in states with their own exchanges have immigration-status issues. Covered California has indicated that it has roughly 100,000 applications that require more documentation.

Immigrants who lack proper documents are prohibited from obtaining coverage through the exchanges. But foreign-born citizens and legal immigrants are eligible to enroll through the government-run marketplaces.

Follow Paul Demko on Twitter: @MHpdemko


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