A coalition of private and public organizations has called on a well-known Spanish-speaking disc jockey to break through the resistance that often keeps Latino children from being enrolled in a government-funded health insurance program for working-poor families.
Catholic Healthcare West, a large hospital chain, and the Hispanic Broadcast Corp. are giving the program Healthy Families a new voice: Renan Almendarez Coello, also known as "El Cucuy de la Manana." Almendarez Coello, whose nickname, "El Cucuy," alludes to a folk character familiar to many Mexican children, has a morning radio show on KSCA 101.9 that draws close to a million listeners.
Catholic Healthcare West is investing $270,000 into the campaign, and the Hispanic Broadcast Corp. will provide air time at a reduced cost.
Almendarez Coello has taken the challenge of selling the state and federally funded insurance program, which provides health, dental and vision coverage, to working-class families whose income is too high to qualify for insurance programs for the poor but too low to afford private coverage.
"He is a trusted voice," said Patricia Suarez, a marketing representative who initiated the outreach campaign. "Renan just makes the phone ring."
Cultural hurdles have made it difficult for authorities to reach Latino families. Many are immigrants who, experts say, are suspicious of government programs. Some believe that seeking public aid for their children might affect their chances of becoming legal residents, or they reject assistance to prevent being perceived as a "burden on the system."
There are more than 1.5 million uninsured children in California. Nearly half a million of them are eligible for Healthy Families, and 68% are Latinos, according to the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research. The program now enrolls 506,635. Subscribers pay a monthly premium of $4 to $9 per child, up to a maximum of $27 for one family.
"It's affordable," said Dr. Luis N. Pacheco, medical director at the California Hospital Medical Center who appears on Spanish-language television. "It should cover all of the medical needs of these families who don't qualify for other insurance programs. Unfortunately, it's not happening."
Almendarez Coello has recorded an ad that will air regularly for the next year in his national morning program at KSCA-FM. His voice is so influential that he is reputed to have persuaded drug addicts to quit their vices. He sponsors health-care fund-raisers benefiting Latinos and is so busy that he seldom knows what he has scheduled each day.
On Friday, state and federal lawmakers recognized him for his support of Healthy Families.
He said he hadn't known about the recognition or about the news conference at which he was scheduled to speak. But it didn't matter. He commanded people's attention as soon as he came into the room, making funny faces and waving his right leg as if he were dancing. Doctors and politicians laughed.
"My manager brings me there, gives me three words and I start talking," he said. "It comes from the heart. In the end people cry or applaud and I don't know what happened."