News / USA

Obamacare Enrollment by Latinos Hurt by Immigration Law Concerns

FILE - Carlos Guzman of Albany, Ga., holds a sign during an immigration reform rally in front of the White House, Washington, July 24, 2013.FILE - Carlos Guzman of Albany, Ga., holds a sign during an immigration reform rally in front of the White House, Washington, July 24, 2013.
x
FILE - Carlos Guzman of Albany, Ga., holds a sign during an immigration reform rally in front of the White House, Washington, July 24, 2013.
FILE - Carlos Guzman of Albany, Ga., holds a sign during an immigration reform rally in front of the White House, Washington, July 24, 2013.
Reuters
Concerns among Hispanics that signing up for medical insurance  under President Barack Obama's healthcare law may draw the scrutiny of immigration authorities has hurt enrollment, according to advocates of the policy.

Convincing Latinos to enroll could be crucial to the law's  success, and supporters of Obama's signature domestic policy are aiming their campaign at the 10.2 million Latinos eligible for the new insurance plans or the expansion of the Medicaid program for the poor.

As a group, Latinos are younger than the overall population in the United States and signing them up in large numbers under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act could help offset the costs of covering older and sicker people.

But the enrollment effort appears to be falling short. In California, home to the largest Latino population in the country, only 13 percent of enrollees on the state's online marketplace called Covered California identified themselves as Hispanic, despite accounting for about 38 percent of the population, the state said last week.

Ironically, polls have consistently shown Latinos are more supportive of the law, commonly called Obamacare, than the general public. A September survey from the Pew Research Center found 61 percent of Hispanics had a favorable view of the law compared to 29 percent among whites.

The law, passed in 2010, established online insurance exchanges, or marketplaces so that millions of uninsured people could enroll for private healthcare plans.

The Obama administration has not released figures on enrollment by ethnicity, but so far officials are not optimistic about Latino turnout.

“I would not be surprised if those numbers aren't what we want them to be right now,” said Mayra Alvarez, associate director of minority health at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Immigration law enforcement

The sign-up campaign may be stalling in part due to the  administration's vigorous enforcement of immigration laws. The administration deported a record number of people during Obama's first term, according to Pew Research Center data.

While Obama has backed a bill that offers a pathway to citizenship for many of the country's 11 million undocumented  immigrants, his administration increased deportations to nearly 410,000 people in 2012, almost double the number in 2003.

Obamacare supporters say fear of immigration enforcement is a particular concern in Hispanic families where one spouse is a U.S. citizen or legal resident and married to an undocumented person, or where both parents are undocumented immigrants but their children have citizenship.

“A lot of mixed-status families are afraid that if they enroll, that the government will come and divide up their family through deportation,” said Daniel Zingale, senior vice president at the California Endowment, a health foundation.

One couple who last month came to a Los Angeles event by the group Vision y Compromiso demonstrates the types of problems these families face, said program manager Hugo Ramirez. The organization, dedicated to improving the health of the Hispanic community, received funding through Covered California to promote Obamacare.

The undocumented parents, a father who is a construction worker and a mother who works as a house cleaner, feared information they might submit to enroll their three children in  Covered California could be used against them by U.S. immigration officials, Ramirez said.

An advocate advised the couple they would not risk running afoul of immigration authorities, but that in enrolling their children and providing details on the family's earnings, they would have to begin paying income taxes despite being undocumented, Ramirez said. The couple seemed inclined to buy coverage for their children, ages 17 and younger, he said.

The administration has sought to defuse immigration concerns, which had been flagged by community leaders before the six-month open enrollment period began on Oct. 1. The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency said in October that personal information submitted by insurance shoppers would not be used for immigration enforcement.

Minnesota's exchange, MNSure, said it has found that even when mixed-status Latino families were prepared to sign up, some hesitated in submitting information needed to verify the identity of the member seeking insurance online.

“This is on our radar and we are communicating with our navigators about this issue,” said MNSure spokeswoman Jenni Bowring-McDonough.

Home Internet access less likely

When it comes to enrollment, technology issues have also proven a barrier.

The Spanish-language version of the federal online exchange, CuidadoDeSalud.gov, was not running until December.

The federal website, HealthCare.gov, which serves 36 states, was hobbled by technology problems in October and much of November and fell short of enrollment expectations.

California, one of 14 states with its own website, has boasted that it works far better than the federal portal, but even with the technology working well, other issues may hinder enrollment.

Latino families, because of lower household income and other factors, are less likely to have home internet connections, according to a 2013 Pew Research Center study, making them more dependent on outside help from enrollment navigators to shop for the new plans.

Ricardo Hernandez, 20, a Los Angeles-area resident, is uninsured and eager to obtain coverage through Covered California, but he lives with his sister in a house that has no internet connection. He has called the exchange's hotline seven times but has been unable to reach someone.

“It's rare when I have access to computer,” said Hernandez, a part-time gas station attendant. “I just feel like a bother constantly to have to ask a friend or a neighbor to use their computer.”

The troubles seen in California run even deeper in Florida and Texas, two states with large Hispanic populations. Both states declined to set up their own websites and shoppers need to use the federal government portal.

U.S. Representative Loretta Sanchez, a California Democrat, said her state was “all on board to say we need to make it work, and our numbers are still low in the Latino community and they should be high.” Sanchez described Texas as “thumbing their nose at the president and saying we're not going to help you, yes outreach may be lacking.”

You May Like

Philippines, Muslim Rebels Try to Salvage Peace Pact

Peace process faces major setback after botched military operation to find terrorists results in bloody gunbattle between government forces, Moro Islamic Liberation Front fighters More

Republicans Expect Long, Expensive Presidential Battle

Political strategist says eventual winner will be one who can put together strongest coalition of various conservative groups that make up Republican Party More

Video New Wheelchair Is Easier to Use, Increases Mobility

Engineers have come up with a lever-operated design that makes use of easily accessible bicycle technology More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grievingi
X
Benno Muchler
March 26, 2015 3:41 PM
Beatrice Yardolo was to make history as Liberia’s last Ebola patient. Liberians recently started counting down 42 days, the period that has to go by without a single new infection until the World Health Organization can declare a country Ebola-free. That countdown stopped on March 20 when there was another new case of Ebola, making Yardolo’s story a reminder that Ebola is far from over. Benno Muchler reports from Monrovia.
Video

Video Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grieving

Beatrice Yardolo was to make history as Liberia’s last Ebola patient. Liberians recently started counting down 42 days, the period that has to go by without a single new infection until the World Health Organization can declare a country Ebola-free. That countdown stopped on March 20 when there was another new case of Ebola, making Yardolo’s story a reminder that Ebola is far from over. Benno Muchler reports from Monrovia.
Video

Video Cambodian Land Grabs Threaten Traditional Communities

Indigenous communities in Cambodia's Ratanakiri province say the government’s economic land concession policy is taking away their land and traditional way of life, making many fear that their identity will soon be lost. Local authorities, though, have denied this is the case. VOA's Say Mony went to investigate and filed this report, narrated by Colin Lovett.
Video

Video US, South Korea Conduct Joint Military Exercises

The Eighth U.S. Army Division and the Eighth Republic of Korea Mechanized Infantry Division put on a well orchestrated show of force for the media this week during their joint military training exercises in South Korea. VOA’s Seoul correspondent Brian Padden was there and reports the soldiers were well disciplined both in conducting a complex live fire exercise and in staying on message with the press.
Video

Video Space Program Status Disappoints 'Last Man on the Moon'

One of the films that drew big crowds last week at the annual South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas, tells the story of the last human being to stand on the moon, U.S. astronaut Eugene Cernan. It has been 42 years since Cernan returned from the moon and he laments that no one else has gone there since. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Young Filmmakers Shine Spotlight on Giving Back

A group of student filmmakers from across the United States joined President Barack Obama at the White House this month for the second annual White House Student Film Festival. Fifteen short films were officially selected from more than 1,500 entries by students aged 6 through 18. The filmmakers and their families then joined the president and a group of celebrities for a screening of their films. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video VOA Exclusive: Interview with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, during his first visit as president to Washington, gave a one-on-one interview with VOA Afghan Service reporter Said Suleiman Ashna, about his request for a change in U.S. troop levels, the threat from the Islamic State, and repairing relations with the United States and Pakistan. The interview was held at Blair House, late Sunday, in Pashto.
Video

Video California Science Center Tells Story of Dead Sea Scrolls

The ancient manuscripts were uncovered in the mid-20th century, and they are still yielding clues about life and religious beliefs in ancient Israel. As VOA's Mike O'Sullivan reports, an exhibit in Los Angeles shows how modern science is bringing the history of these ancient documents to life.
Video

Video Angelina Jolie Takes Another Bold Step

Hollywood actress and filmmaker Angelina Jolie has revealed she had her ovaries and fallopian tubes removed to lower her odds of getting cancer. Doctors say the huge publicity over her decision will help raise awareness about the importance of cancer screening. VOA’s George Putic has more

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More