Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Little Havana’s New Creative Economy: Small Businesses Assist Locals with Obamacare Enrollment

Photo Credit: Nechtor Gabino/El Nuevo Herald.

Posted by Deirdre Oakley, LITTLE HAVANA, MIAMI, FLORIDA – Last week I was at the Urban Affairs Association meeting in Miami. As some of my colleagues and I arrived in Little Havana one evening by cab, I started to notice storefronts and billboards advertising assistance with Obamacare enrollment. Yes, we should have taken the Number 8 Bus, not only because it costs a lot less and takes about the same amount of time given the heavy traffic, but also because I could have captured some non-blurry photographs of these billboards and storefronts.

There has been a great deal of documentation demonstrating that some tax prep businesses in relatively poor urban enclaves are predatory. No so with Obamacare in Little Havana. When I investigated further I found that Little Havana, and South Florida in general, have much higher rates of enrollment than other places around the country. So small businesses already providing insurance, tax and immigration assistance, now also provide help with Affordable Care Act enrollment. The businesses make a fee, and the clients walk away with health insurance – sometimes for the first time in the clients’ lives. Unless Obamacare is repealed, such help provides a lifetime of health insurance security, unlike year-to-year income tax assistance.

From what I could gather these small business services are more about navigating a complex bureaucratic online sign-up process rather than about language or cultural barriers. But more important, it’s about creative economic enterprise whereby small, minority-owned businesses and the clients walk away with something that is mutually beneficial. Perhaps our country's mega-corporations could learn a few valuable strategies from these small businesses.

Deirdre Oakley is the Editor of Social Shutter and an Associate Professor in the Sociology Department at Georgia State University. She can be contacted at doakley1@gsu.edu.