Obamacare forum fields Latinos' questions

  • Marcos Suarez, center left, a certified educator with Covered California, tries to answer questions from Yolanda Flores, left, her husband Vincente Peralta, right, and Odilon Salgado following a health insurance forum at Taylor Mountain Elementary School in Santa Rosa. (BETH SCHLANKER/ The Press Democrat)

The three Santa Rosa residents registered for Sunday's forum on the Affordable Care Act and then gathered outside in the sun, discussing in Spanish the questions they had.

“The first question is, 'What help is there for people who don't earn much,” said Odilon Salgado, 53, sitting on the curb outside Taylor Mountain Elementary School. “For people like me, for farmworkers.”

“Another question,” added Yolanda Flores of Santa Rosa, “is it obligatory.”

“Also,” said Flores, 45, “for example, if I go for a routine exam, every two or three years, I pay, say, $30. If we have to pay every month, is it worth it?”

“We don't have children,” added Flores's husband, Vicente Peralta, 48 and a landscaper. “So we don't go to the doctor.”

Soon the forum, organized by Rep. Mike Thompson's office, started. The audience was spare, perhaps 20 people, and Thompson, D-St. Helena, seemed a bit disappointed.

“I'm sorry that there aren't more people here,” he said in his opening remarks.

President Barack Obama's signature health care overhaul has ground bumpily into gear since its Oct. 1 launch and the forum took place amid efforts to increase the number of Latinos enrolled through the state-run health insurance exchange, Covered California. At the end of December, Latinos were about 20 percent of the total number of people who had signed up.

That number is much higher in Sonoma County, where Latinos are about 65 percent of Covered California enrollments.

“I think it's so important for everyone to have good health care and health insurance,” Thompson said to the small crowd Sunday. “If I have to go door to door and speak to each person individually, it's worth it.”

Sonoma County Supervisor Shirlee Zane, speaking in both Spanish and English, said the great majority of the estimated 70,000 county residents without medical insurance will be able to receive it through the law commonly referred to as Obamacare.

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