Salvadoran consul: Insurance information is confidential

Keny López de Zuleta

General Consul Keny López de Zuleta in her office at the El Salvador Consulate in Seattle.

One challenge under the new health care law — nationally and locally — has been persuading Latinos to sign-up. Latinos are a diverse group, but the example of local Salvadoran immigrants helps illustrate the obstacles.

Enough Salvadorans live in the King County area to form a small city — more than 40,000 total. Sometimes, they encounter an issue with a passport, require a birth certificate, need a medical referral to a Spanish-speaking physician or any other number of services.

And many of them also need health insurance.

They often seek answers at the El Salvadoran Consulate in Seattle, which is spreading the message — applying for insurance will not expose you to any immigration scrutiny.

However, many Salvadorans’ status in the U.S. makes them uncertain about applying.

Unique “Temporary Protected Status” causes confusion

Thousands of Salvadorans have Temporary Protected Status, which was granted by the U.S. government after the 2001 earthquakes in El Salvador. This status is like a work permit. While Salvadorans with a TPS are lawfully present in the U.S., they are not eligible for the country’s social benefits — except they may purchase insurance through exchanges such as Washington Healthplanfinder. This has caused a lot of confusion in the community about enrollment and penalties.

Additionally, many Salvadorans are concerned that even if they are eligible, an application might expose family members to Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

“Some people have a lot of fears because they think this information will be shared with Immigration. We must tell the community that this information is confidential,” said Keny López de Zuleta, the Consul General at the Seattle consulate.

Salvadorans should be assured, said Ms. López de Zuleta, that whether or not they’re eligible for insurance, they will face no penalty for applying.

Enrolling before the deadline

One of Ms. López de Zuleta’s most urgent tasks is to get the Salvadoran community in Washington state signed up for health insurance.

“It is so important to inform the Latino community of the health care benefits of the United States of America,” she says, referring to the new Washington Healthplanfinder insurance website. An open enrollment period, for purchasing subsidized plans, ends on March 31, 2014.

Community outreach and collaboration

Answering confusing questions is one of her primary responsibilities, says López de Zuleta. She came to her brick-lined office is in downtown Seattle after earning a law degree at the University of El Salvador, and then working at the El Salvadoran Embassy in Washington, D.C.

To better serve her community, Ms. López de Zuleta, intends to open a Health Window that will address medical and labor concerns among King County’s Salvadoran population.

King County has also scheduled a March 1 event with Spanish-speaking In-Person Assisters at the South Park Community Center from noon-3:30 p.m..

As Ms. López de Zuleta sees it, “We are responsible as the consulate to have this information and to make an alliance with community organizations that can help our people.”

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