On March 23, 2010, President Obama signed the Affordable Care Act. This law put in place comprehensive health insurance reforms that helped to make health care more affordable and accessible for families, seniors, businesses, and taxpayers alike. This includes previously uninsured Americans, and Americans who had insurance that didn’t provide them adequate coverage and security.
One group, however, has not benefited to the same extent as others: Latinos. Latinos continue to have the highest uninsured rates among major U.S. racial or ethnic groups. In 2014, 43% of Latinos were uninsured, as compared to only 10% of non-Hispanic Whites and 18% of African Americans. Moreover, in North Carolina 10% of Latino children do not have health insurance coverage, compared with 5% of all children. The primary reason for this discrepancy is that Latinos make up a disproportionate share of unauthorized immigrants who are ineligible for Medicaid or participation in state and federal marketplaces.
So why are Latinos not signing up for insurance? First, language barriers continue to be an issue. Many Spanish-speakers need help enrolling in the marketplace; however, it can be rare, especially in rural areas, to find bilingual in-person assisters. Efforts are improving, and nearly a third of the ACA’s media budget during the recently completed open-enrollment period focused on Hispanic media. Another obstacle facing the Latino community is the widespread fear that those who are eligible for coverage might endanger others in their family who are undocumented. That concern persists even though President Obama and other administration officials have said repeatedly that no information on a health law application will be used for deportation purposes.
In an effort to help our Latino brothers and sisters access these benefits, the Council has recently helped organize and publicize events throughout the state where citizens and legal residents could enroll themselves or family members. This effort included having bilingual in-person assisters available. Many of these challenges became apparent in organizing these events, including that many people in Latino congregations are ineligible to enroll in the Marketplace due to their documentation status (whether it be undocumented or DACA-mented), or fear of compromising someone else’s documentation status. Likewise, in rural areas it can be more difficult to find bilingual assisters as compared to urban areas.
However, there are still thousands of Latinos who are U.S.-born or legal immigrants and are entitled to the full benefits of the health reform law. Here are quotes from a few of those success stories:
“I didn’t understand about the deductibles and how to choose a plan. It’s difficult. It’s the first time I’ve done that. That’s why I came here, to ask them to help us.”
“Getting health insurance through the Marketplace was a big moment in my life. As a Latina, we tend to forget about ourselves and focus solely on our families, so the idea that I would be able to take care of my own needs is extraordinary. I wish I had done it a lot sooner.”
“Between my college studies and working to pay for my education, my life is pretty busy. I don’t have time to be sick. But illnesses don’t care about schedules….”
“We think we’re going to live forever. We think we’ll always be young and healthy. But we have to take care of ourselves. Health insurance is an important step toward taking control of our health.”
The Latino community already faces many disadvantages in today’s world; accessing health care should not be one of them. I am grateful for everyone who partnered with us to hold events and who put on their own events during this enrollment period, especially the volunteer in-person assisters who give greatly of their time for the vitality of our communities.