Grant Partner InFocus: Boat People SOS

See how EHF’s grant is not only helping thousands of underserved Asian Americans get health insurance, it’s helping them better understand how to use it.

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Imagine limping across the streets of Chambers County, one arm wrapped firmly around your leg for support. You notice a table set up on the side of the street with people who appear to be giving out vaccines. The situation is so serious, your leg is turning green.

You approach a woman at the table and in broken English ask her if she can fix it.

“You need to go to a clinic,” the woman responded.

You say no. You can’t. How could you? You have no health insurance. You have no way to pay for clinical visits. You have no way to pay for your health.

But this time, the woman at the table had a solution. She works for Boat People S.O.S (BPSOS), an EHF grant partner working to increase access to health care and preventive services for thousands of Asian-American refugees and immigrants across Houston and Southeast Texas.

Like the man with the severely injured leg, BPSOS encounters many people who not only don’t have health insurance, they lack a basic understanding of how health insurance even works.

They’re not alone. EHF’s research team recently released a report that showed 25% of all Texans don’t understand basic health insurance terms like “premium,” “co-payment” and “deductible.” health-insurance-terms-gfx-thumb.gif The report found that the lack of understanding was much higher among uninsured Texans and those with low incomes. Even when Texans become insured, EHF researchers found those who bought their own health insurance were less likely to understand how it works.

BPSOS is working to change that.  

In 2015, BPSOS received a $75,000 EHF grant to provide health navigation services to underserved Asian Americans by helping them not only obtain health insurance, but educating them on how health plans work. In the past year, BPSOS has helped more than 1,700 Asian Americans enroll in some form of health coverage including Affordable Care Act health insurance, Medicaid, Medicare and CHIP.

 “BPSOS hosts events and workshops to educate Asian Americans who not only lack health care, they also don’t understand it,” said Jannette Diep, executive director of BPSOS-Houston. “Sometimes we have to go through every plan over and over because health plans and benefits are a difficult concept in general. And if you can imagine, it’s that much more difficult for immigrants and refugees with little to no English speaking ability.”

BPSOS hosted 16 health education workshops. Along with information about the overall importance of health and checkups, speakers focused on the need to have a way to pay for these services in order to avoid high out-of-pocket costs.  

Three BPSOS volunteers are now certified in ACA health insurance enrollment.  Interpreters are also available to help as BPSOS workers begin the process of educating and enrolling these Asian Americans in a plan they prefer and understand.

“We’re grateful the Episcopal Health Foundation allowed us the chance to do something like this.” Diep said. “You see how many people out here need help and think, ‘Wow, there’s so much more that we have to do.’ We’re not going to stop until they’re all covered.”