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Hamkae Center’s mission is organize Asian Americans to achieve social, economic, and racial justice in Virginia. Our theory of change is that through community organizing, public policy advocacy, civic engagement, youth leadership development, service provision, and community education, we can build our vision: a future in which low- and middle-income, immigrant, people of color, and marginalized communities can fully participate in U.S. society and work together as makers of lasting change. The founding values of Young Koreans United (YKU) - the direct ancestor of NAKASEC, who in turn incubated Hamkae Center - were developed by Han Bong Yoon. Teacher Yoon was a pro-democracy and reunification movement leader who had to flee, becoming the first South Korean political asylee to the U.S. Once here, he continued organizing for his homeland and formed YKU chapters in at least 7 cities. The chapters formed local community centers, which then formed NAKASEC, and organized on domestic issues, like immigrant access to public benefits. The four values are: 1.Know Your Roots: Learn about the histories of your people – however you want to define that - and embrace it. Being proud of who and where you come from is critical for future growth. 2.Live Right: Pursue justice. Choose justice. 3.Live Strong: And do it with dignity, even when it’s hard. 4.Live Together: Be and act in solidarity with others. Our fates are intertwined. In ten years, we grew from being an extension of NAKASEC in 2013 into a fiscally sponsored, full-fledged affiliate.
About the Organization:
$1 MILLION - $2 MILLION
Having insurance makes a difference in whether and when people access healthcare. For some Asian Americans, the barrier is their immigration status. Immigrants have limited access to employer-sponsored coverage, face eligibility restrictions for public healthcare programs, are confused about eligibility and application policies even if eligible for those programs, and are afraid that using public healthcare programs will harm their chances of becoming citizens later (which was real during the Trump administration). We see this in the numbers. In 2020, one in three (33.8%) noncitizen Virginians were uninsured compared to one in 15 (6.6%) citizens. Uninsured noncitizens are more likely than uninsured citizens to report not having a usual source of care (33% vs. 20%), not having had a doctor’s visit in the past 12 months (32% vs. 20%), and going without needed medical care in the past 12 months due to its cost (10% vs. 7%). Noncitizens make up 6% of Virginia’s population and 19% of undocumented immigrants in Virginia are from Asian countries. This year, an estimated 1 million AAPIs will lose their health insurance because of “Medicaid unwinding.” During the COVID-19 pandemic, Congress provided increased Medicaid funding to states. One of the conditions was that states could not terminate Medicaid coverage for most enrollees until the end of the public health emergency. That emergency was lifted, so the continuous enrollment condition has ended. An estimated 304,500 to 435,000 Virginians will lose coverage (there is no AAPI-specific data). These two dynamics means that the uninsured rate will increase. And more Asian Americans in Virginia will face these challenges: 1) Overall poorer health outcomes because illnesses or conditions (such as diabetes) become worse or be undiagnosed because detection, prevention, or necessary treatments are delayed or neglected; 2) Medical debt resulting from more complex treatments; and 3) Increased stress. Lack of insurance for some is actually a problem for all. Insurance coverage helps prevent the development or progression of diseases (such as COVID-19) by promoting early detection and intervention (like vaccinations). This contributes to public health by reducing the overall burden of preventable illnesses and improving population health outcomes.
Our solution is twofold: 1) provide immediate support to uninsured Asian Americans; and 2) organize for systemic change. This approach embodies our theory of change and centers the lived experiences and leadership of directly impacted individuals. First, we provide immediate support. This is done primarily in three ways: 1) screen for and then assist eligible Asian Americans to apply for public health programs, like Medicaid, CHIP or Affordable Care Act marketplace coverage; 2) provide direct referrals to free and low-cost health services, ranging from primary care to dental care; and 3) enroll eligible noncitizens (primarily undocumented immigrants) into hospital system-based health access programs. The service provision brings people in and often means repeat engagement. This helps foster connection and trust with someone at Hamkae Center. A trained and certified Health Navigator provides these services, supported by volunteers and a statewide network of Navigators (of which we are the only partner in Virginia specifically outreaching to Asian American communities). Outside of open enrollment season for the ACA and hospital system-based health access programs, the Health Navigator can enroll new individuals or support renewing coverage for existing enrollees. Educating Asian Americans about Medicaid unwinding is particularly timely, since the process started on April 1, 2023 and will continue for an entire year. From there, it smooths the way to talk about the second approach – organize together for systemic change. Asian Americans with lived experiences of having no health insurance are very effective spokespeople to raise awareness and educate state legislators about the issues. In partnership, we can then workable state-level policy solutions to expand health care access to immigrants. Such solutions include 1) providing comprehensive state-funded coverage to all income-eligible children, regardless of immigration status. (already implemented in eight states and DC), 2) expanding state-funded coverage to adult immigrants (in a few states), and/or 3) providing state-funded premium subsidies to immigrants who are ineligible for federal premium subsidies in the Marketplace due to their immigration status. Hamkae Center has an organizing team and a policy & communications team to form a base with these individuals and then follow their leadership.