Despite Stumbling Blocks, Latinos Sign Up for Obamacare

A greater percentage of Latinos than whites have purchased health care, report says.

Mario Ricart and Rudy Figueroa, insurance agents with Sunshine Life and Health Advisors, help people with information about the Affordable Care Act on Nov. 5, 2013, in Miami. The insurance company was originally geared toward the Hispanic market but is expanding to help people purchase and understand the policies offered under the ACA.
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Countless editorials argue that Latinos could "make or break" Obamacare, and the little demographic data available thus far appear to show the overhaul is a relative success among Americans in the ethnic group.

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A report from the nonprofit Transamerica Center for Health Studies claims that 5 percent of Latinos have enrolled in Obamacare compared to just 1 percent of whites. The online survey was conducted Nov. 4-11 and captured responses from 1,005 individuals, 161 of whom were Latino. The questions were given in English.

More than 10 million uninsured Latinos in the U.S. will have an opportunity for coverage under Obamacare beginning in 2014, according to the Department of Health and Human Services.

 

The report's findings come despite the fact that the Spanish version of the Obamacare website, Cuidadodesalud.gov, launched just this month following a two-month delay. Nine of the 17 state-based exchanges also do not have a Spanish language website, according to a report from TogoRun, a global communications agency based in Washington, D.C.

"We're three months into open enrollment, there's three months left. The fact that these key states that we researched early on still have not updated any online platforms with Spanish materials is unfortunate to that population," says Jon Tilton, senior vice president of TogoRun.

TogoRun also reported finding that only 10 of 120 government-funded navigator groups had developed a Spanish language website or a Spanish-language social media presence. Navigators are individuals or organizations who help consumers make health insurance decisions

"What's a 'premium'? What's 'cost-sharing'? What's a 'subsidy'? To not have this information in their primary language, that I think is disenfranchising," Tilton says.

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Such potential hurdles for those in Latino communities have elicited a range of responses. Dr. Lisa Gwynn, who works for the Children's Health Fund in South Florida and serves children without health insurance, says about 75 percent of the children she works with have been in the country less than five years and about seven in 10 are Latino.

"Obamacare really hasn't had an impact in our community in terms of improved access, because our state did not accept the extra federal dollars (to expand Medicaid) that other states did accept," Gwynn says.

Still, Gwynn is hopeful.

"Of anything that's come down the pike for us in terms of an improvement, it's the fact that we do have more people in the community that are helping to sign up those families that are eligible for Medicaid or Florida Kid Care," she says, speaking of the navigators. Florida Kid Care is the state-run Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP).

Dr. Jane Delgado, president and CEO of the National Alliance for Hispanic Health, says the volume of phone calls to her organization skyrocketed from about 300 per month to nearly 6,500 in October after the launch of Healthcare.gov. The majority of calls were about Obamacare. People asked about deadlines and whether the insurance companies phoning them at home with low-cost plans could be trusted.

Delgado visited Cuidadodesalud.gov and noticed that parts, such as the page for viewing plans without providing personal information, are still only in English.

"What we're finding is that tech is one issue, but really getting the information about what is covered within a plan is something that we have to walk people through," Delgado says.

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As someone who has worked in labs and analyzed data, Delgado says the current Obamacare numbers aren't always giving an accurate picture. It will take time for a clearer portrait of enrollment and demographics to emerge, she says.

"It's too soon because the systems aren't all up. These systems take time to develop," she says, noting that even Amazon.com, which Healthcare.gov has been disparagingly compared to, had its growing pains.