Here’s To Your Health

By Damon Guinn

I’m sure you’ve heard the saying, “An apple a day keeps the doctor away.” For generations, this common expression has been used to encourage healthy eating by implying that the fruit has miraculous qualities.

Apples have important nutrients like pectin, a fiber that lowers blood pressure, glucose levels, and LDL cholesterol; vitamin C to boost immunity; and vitamins A and E and beta carotene, which reduce the risk of asthma, diabetes, and heart disease.

Eating an apple a day can definitely be good for our health. But the expression is also a good reminder for us to take our health seriously.

Comparing Apples to Oranges

Choosing health insurance can be a lot like comparing apples to oranges. Without guidance, plans that initially seem very similar can be vastly different.

HAP has made concentrated efforts to help un- and underinsured members of the community understand their choices and enroll in healthcare plans offered through the Minnesota Insurance Marketplace (MNsure). Between 2017 and 2018, HAP outreach and enrollment specialists helped 5,506 individuals apply for coverage and screened and/or helped answer questions for 9,084 individuals, nearly double the goal set at the start of the year. The organization recently received $220,000 in renewed funding from MNsure’s Navigator Outreach and Enrollment Program to enroll an additional 3,000 individuals and provide outreach education to at least 10,000 more.

According to state health data, Hmong in Minnesota experience higher rates of health disparities, including obesity and certain types of cancer, than the broader population. They are also more likely to be uninsured due to income and language barriers. Estimates indicate that the Hmong community is uninsured at a rate 5 to 8 percent above the 6.3 percent rate for the overall community.

HAP outreach and enrollment specialists routinely connect with residents at Hmong Village Shopping Center, where a permanent office is staffed to ensure convenient access. Outreach events are also conducted at Entira Family Clinics, the Community School of Excellence, Jackson Elementary, and the North Hennepin Community College.

Some of the most successful connections, however, occur at popular community events, like Hmong MN Day at the State Fair and the Little Mekong Night Market. Melanie Thao, one of HAP’s three specialists, recounted the story of a Karen family who recently moved to Minnesota and was struggling to get health coverage for their 9-year-old disabled daughter who needs daily medication. They had been waiting for weeks to receive help from another agency when they happened upon HAP’s resource table at National Night Out. The next day, the parents went to HAP for to enroll in MNsure. They were guided through the enrollment process and approved for medical care shortly thereafter. Their daughter is now receiving the critical medication she needs to stay healthy.

SNAP Into Action

When it comes to helping people get nutritious food, Yer Yang is all business. Yer has processed more than 100 SNAP applications in the six months she has served as HAP’s SNAP outreach coordinator. SNAP, or the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, provides eligible low-income households with a monthly stipend for nutritious food.

While the Hmong community has a rich history of farming and utilizing fresh produce – and has several markets in the Twin Cities where healthy foods can be purchased – economic factors have taken a toll on balanced diets. And there are concerns about asking for help. According to Yer, one of the biggest components of SNAP is educating the community and dispelling myths about the program. Many deserving applicants wrongly assume that by accepting assistance they will deprive someone who is more deserving.

There are also the challenges of filling out the nine-page SNAP application. “If you don’t have a good financial understanding of the questions, you’re probably going to answer them incorrectly,” Yer said. Many of her clients tell her how thankful they are that HAP provides language services to help them.

Yer is especially proud of the times when she is able to do more than originally expected, like the time she helped a client enroll in SNAP and then helped her get job training through HAP’s Workforce Development services. “SNAP assistance is temporary,” Yer reflected. “The long-term goal is to help clients become self-sufficient.”

In the year to come, Yer and her fellow outreach specialists hope to conduct 1,000 SNAP screenings and ensure hundreds are approved for the assistance that is so vital to their health. In the process, they will give their clients much more than apples to keep the doctor away … they will give them the access and knowledge they need to lead healthy, happy lives.

To learn more about enrolling in health insurance or applying for SNAP benefits, contact HAP’s Arcade Street office at (651) 495-1557.

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