While the Affordable Care Act (ACA) is supposed to reach all uninsured Americans, Hispanics are being left behind. This year, the government is spending a significant amount of its ACA outreach budget on getting members of the Hispanic community signed up. Issues include confusion over how to select a plan, language barriers and fears about exposing undocumented family members.
Hispanics Failing to Enroll
Hispanics represent 17 percent of the U.S. population, a number that is still growing. By 2050, they are expected to make up about 30 percent of the population. In spite of a big population presence, Hispanics experience disparities in healthcare across the country. This includes a disparity in coverage. Of all racial and ethnic groups in the U.S., Hispanics have the highest rates of uninsured individuals. One-third of all Hispanics are uninsured.
The ACA is supposed to help close that gap and reach Americans who are uninsured, but that goal has not been fully met in the Hispanic community. A few months into 2015’s enrollment period for healthcare.gov, only 10 percent of enrollees were Hispanic. This is slightly better than last year, when only 7 percent of enrollees were Hispanic, but the improvement is not significant enough.
ACA Reaches Out to Hispanics
To help close the health insurance gap, the government is focusing on reaching Hispanic Americans and getting them signed up at healthcare.gov. One-third of the media budget for the ACA has been devoted to this cause for 2015. Two major issues that need to be resolved in order to get more people signed up are language and general confusion about how health insurance works. For someone who has never had health insurance, it can be very confusing. Add to that a language barrier, and it becomes easier to understand why some Hispanics don’t sign up.
To overcome these problems, the government is setting up in-person assistance in communities, an expensive and time-heavy solution. One person or family may need multiple, hour-long sessions to complete the process and to come to a reasonable understanding of how a chosen health insurance plan works. Another issue with signing up for insurance is cost. While many Hispanics can qualify for tax credits, monthly premiums are still a problem for some.
In addition to the in-person assistance being provided in Hispanic communities, the government is reaching out via the media. Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) Kathleen Sebelius is trying to reach Hispanics by appearing on Spanish-language news programs, television shows and radio stations. The HHS is also revamping and improving the Spanish version of healthcare.gov, cuidadodesalud.gov. The Spanish-language TV networks Telemundo and Univision are launching their own campaigns to reach viewers and to encourage enrollment.
Finally, there is the persistent fear that coming forward to enroll will expose undocumented individuals and put them at risk for deportation. President Obama has insisted that none of the information taken for enrollment would be used to deport anyone. Technically, however, illegal immigrants are not allowed to purchase insurance on the exchange. Despite assurances, the fear of deportation is real and enduring.
Getting more Hispanics insured is important for individuals and the community as a whole, but it is also important for the success of the ACA. Hispanics make up a significant and growing part of the population of the U.S. and it is important to correct the glaring disparities in health insurance coverage. The government is working hard to do just that.