When Diane Vanette, a leader of the social justice coalition OneLA and member of Temple Emanuel of Beverly Hills, appeared Oct. 13 on the bimah at Temple Judea in Tarzana and proclaimed, “We are committed to health care for everyone in Los Angeles County,” there was no question that she meant it.
The proof? An audience filled overwhelmingly not with Jews but Hispanics, some of them undocumented, wanting to learn about the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA).
Organized by OneLA, the event featured lectures, workshops and PowerPoint presentations that aimed to educate a crowd of Angelenos who have been largely ignorant of how the specifics of the law — otherwise known as ACA or Obamacare — will work.
According to Miriam Hernandez, manager of the Latino Health Promoters Program at the Providence Center for Community Health Improvement and one of about 300 people to attend the Sunday afternoon event, many people in the Hispanic community are unaware of what ACA means for them. For instance, among the undocumented community, there is the question of whether the mandate affects them.
ACA’s provisions, which have been going into effect on a rolling basis since 2010, include the expansion of Medicaid; the establishment of health insurance exchanges, in which consumers can shop for and compare prices of different insurance providers; and an individual mandate that makes it illegal to not be insured. On Oct. 1, the state- and federally run health insurance marketplaces, including Covered California, opened for business.
Hispanics with vague legal statuses are “very confused” about their health care and are asking themselves, “ ‘If I don’t have documents, is it mandatory to enroll or not?’ ” Hernandez said in an interview. (The answer, she added, is no.)
With all the confusion, part of Hernandez’s job is to learn as much as she can about ACA, so that she can pass on this information to others. This was why she attended the event at Temple Judea.
“For me, it’s very important to know about ACA and to provide this information to our health promoters and for our health promoters to provide this information to our community,” she said.
The good news is that Hispanics “want to have health care,” she said. “They are worried about their health, and they are more educated than before.”
The Spanish-only speakers in the audience, who made up the majority, wore headphones to listen to translations as the English-speaking activists and leaders spoke during the first portion of the two-hour event. Many came from the San Gabriel Valley, San Fernando Valley, South Los Angeles and metro Los Angeles areas.
Serving different ethnic and religious communities all across Los Angeles, OneLA (onela-iaf.org) comprises more than 60 congregations and other groups, including Temple Judea, Temple Emanuel of Beverly Hills, Temple Isaiah and Leo Baeck Temple. It has helped more than 3,000 individuals living in L.A. County sign up for public health programs under ACA, according to Ellen Israel, a board member at Temple Judea and leader with OneLA.
With more than 2 million people uninsured in L.A. County, OneLA has been working to make sure that Angelenos are aware of their options under ACA and take full advantage.
“You need to present opportunities for education and opportunities for enrollment,” Israel said.
In a display of the interfaith spirit of the event, Israel co-chaired the event with fellow OneLA activist Carmen Cruz, a parishioner at Mary Immaculate Catholic Church in Pacoima.
Additional speakers included L.A. County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky; Herb Schultz, regional director of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services; Robert Ross, president and CEO of The California Endowment; and Dana Howard, media and public affairs representative at Covered California.
Yaroslavsky, who has long been a bridge between the politically progressive community and Jewish causes, spoke favorably of the progress that has already been made in the county under Obamacare. He estimated that 300,000 individuals here now have health insurance as a result.
Temple Judea’s Rabbi Joshua Aaronson provided spiritual reflections, connecting universal health care to religious values.
“There is no faith tradition that doesn’t support the right of everyone to have health care,” Aaronson said.
Rabbi Rachel Timoner of Leo Baeck and Rabbi Dara Frimmer of Temple Isaiah participated in the event, as well.
OneLA leaders acknowledged that ACA is far from perfect, and not only because the law excludes undocumented immigrants from coverage. As has been widely reported in the media, the Web sites for the health insurance exchanges are full of glitches and unanswered questions.
But they also said it is a step in the right direction.
“This is just the beginning,” Israel said. “More work needs to be done.”
The work by OneLA to educate people and sign them up for health care will continue through November and up until Dec. 15, which is the final day for people to enroll in insurance through Covered California if they want their new plans to go into effect by Jan. 1.
On Nov. 3, an event focused on Covered California will take place at Temple Emanuel, and on Dec. 8, Leo Baeck will host an event to inform people about their health care options.