By Paul Ortiz on Feb 19, 2014
The Obama administration and state governments need to do more to get Latinos signed up under the Affordable Care Act.
A recent New York Times story noted that Latinos were lagging in getting coverage.
With a focus on California, the only state to track enrollment in its health insurance exchange by ethnicity, this story noted that Latinos, who account for nearly half of the state’s uninsured population, make up less than 20 percent of those enrolled in the Covered California exchange.
On a national level, enrollment of Latinos in the state exchanges is critical for the viability of the Affordable Care Act. Latinos are a generally youthful population, and their participation in the insurance pools is vital to the long-term prospects of keeping insurance rates down.
The Affordable Care Act is deeply flawed in this regard, though, because it prevents undocumented workers from signing up for health care coverage. If their children are here legally, however, they have to get them coverage.
Given that the Obama administration is deporting Latino immigrants at a record level — with almost 2 million deported since 2008 — going to a government office is not exactly the first thing that an undocumented person wants to do.
And many Latinos who are already citizens or who are here with proper documentation are deterred from signing up by a hostile climate.
Hence, expecting Latinos to automatically sign up in large numbers in any of the state health care exchanges is illogical. This falls into the “you can’t have it both ways” category.
You can’t target a single group in the society one day and on the next day urge them to approach you with open arms.
Still, states and the federal government can take steps to see that more Latinos get the health care coverage they need.
In California, for instance, there weren’t enough bilingual counselors available, and even two months after that exchange opened it still did not have written application materials available in Spanish.
Correcting this problem is easy: States should have the necessary staff and information at the ready.
At the federal level, it gets harder because the Republican-dominated Congress is so hostile to offering health care coverage to people who are undocumented.
But the Obama administration should stop its frenzy of deportation and should work more closely with Latino community groups across the country to get the message out that we all do better when everyone is covered by health insurance.
Paul Ortiz is director of the Samuel Proctor Oral History Program and associate professor of history at the University of Florida. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Copyright Paul Ortiz.