Hispanics Being Left behind in Health Care Overhaul

CBS DFW, March 24, 2014

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Hispanics account for about one-third of the nation’s uninsured, but they seem to be staying on the sidelines as the White House races to meet a goal of 6 million sign-ups by March 31.

Latinos are “not at the table,” says Jane Delgado, president of the National Alliance for Hispanic Health, a nonpartisan advocacy network. “We are not going to be able to enroll at the levels we should be enrolling at.”

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Hispanics who remain uninsured could face fines, not to mention exposing their families to high medical bills from accidents or unforeseen illness. And the government won’t get the full advantage of a group that’s largely young and healthy, helping keep premiums low in the new insurance markets.

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The Obama administration says it has no statistics on the race and ethnicity of those signing up in the insurance exchanges, markets that offer subsidized private coverage in every state. Consumers provide those details voluntarily, so federal officials say any tally would be incomplete and possibly misleading.

But concern is showing through, and it’s coming from the highest levels.

“You don’t punish me by not signing up for health care,” Obama told Hispanic audiences during a recent televised town hall. “You’re punishing yourself or your family.”

Like a candidate hunting for votes in the closing days of a campaign, Obama was back on Hispanic airwaves Monday as Univision Radio broadcast his latest pitch.

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A big Gallup survey recently showed tepid sign-up progress. While the share of African-Americans who are uninsured dropped by 2.6 percentage points this year, the decline among Hispanics was just 0.8 percentage point.

In California, where Latinos account for 46 percent of those eligible for subsidized coverage through the exchange, they represented 22 percent of those who had enrolled by the end February and had also volunteered their race or ethnicity. {snip}

Experts cite overlapping factors behind disappointing Latino sign-ups:

— A shortage of in-person helpers to guide consumers. “In our community, trust and confidence is so important — you want to make sure it’s okay before you share all this personal information,” Delgado said. There’s been a lack of “culturally sensitive” outreach to Latinos, added Rep. Lloyd Doggett, D-Texas.

— Fear that applying for health care will bring unwelcome scrutiny from immigration authorities. The health insurance exchanges are only for citizens and legal U.S. residents, but many Hispanic families have mixed immigration status. Some members may be native born, while others might be here illegally. Obama has tried to dispel concerns, repeatedly saying that information on applications will not be shared with immigration authorities.

—The decision by many Republican-led states not to expand Medicaid, as they could under the law. With states like Texas and Florida refusing to expand Medicaid, many low-income Latinos will remain uninsured. However, Medicaid expansion is separate from coverage on the exchanges, which is available in every state. Latinos don’t seem motivated to sign up for that, either.

— Technical difficulties that delayed the federal government’s Spanish-language enrollment site. CuidadoDeSalud.gov has also had to cope with clunky translations.

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