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Report: Latest Enrollment Data Shows More Latinos Are Getting Insured [in English]

Enrolling the Latino community is an important part of the Affordable Care Act and although enrollment has been slower than the other segments of the population, acceptance of the law among Latinos is improving.

Preliminary Numbers

A recent analysis at FiveThirtyEight.com provides a detailed overview of the uninsured Latino population (data was originally sourced from Enroll America and Pew Hispanic Center):

The official enrollment numbers for 2015 haven’t been released yet, however other reports released by the Department of Health and Human Services indicate that Latinos have become increasingly interested in what the ACA promises. As of June 2014, the number of uninsured Latinos between the ages of 18 and 64 dropped by nearly 8 percent. In March, a report released by HHS noted that 11 percent of Latinos had signed up for coverage as of the second open enrollment period. That number had stayed consistent with a tally from the first enrollment period, but the report also pointed out that new health insurance plan enrollees were more likely to be African-American or Latino in 2015 as opposed to the previous year.

Medicaid expansion accounts for some of the increased enrollment in ACA plans among Latinos. In addition to expanding access to affordable coverage, Obamacare granted greater access to Medicaid in states that agreed to the expansion. Currently, 29 states and the District of Columbia have expanded their Medicaid programs, two states are discussing expansion, and 19 states have opted against expansion right now.

Of the 29 states that have expanded Medicaid, the most telling numbers come from California, which has a substantial Latino population. Before the ACA became law, more than half of the uninsured population in California was made up of Latinos. About half of the uninsured Latino community signed up for health insurance during the first enrollment period, and 24 percent of the people who enrolled did so via the state Medicaid program, Medi-Cal. The state has also reported a significant increase in sign-ups on the California health insurance exchange site among Latinos.

In states like Texas, which also has a high percentage of Latinos but did not opt for Medicaid expansion, poorer Latino families lack access to health insurance in any form due to a coverage gap phenomenon. Medicaid expansion in these states may boost enrollment numbers by helping people find affordable coverage.

Reaching the Traditionally Unreachable

It’s been difficult for ACA officials and researchers to gather relevant and accurate data about the Latino community, which also makes it tough to reach this population via targeted marketing. Traditionally referred to as “Hispanics,” the Latino designation represents a diverse range of cultures, ethnicities and people who come from different backgrounds. Explaining health care options to such a diverse population has proven challenging.

Adding to the miscommunication is fear among the Latino population that signing up for health insurance will trigger investigations into the legal status of family members, some of whom may be undocumented workers or illegal residents. Even among legal residents, this fear may prevent some families from applying for coverage.

In addition to cultural and immigration challenges facing the Latino community, technical glitches with early versions of the ACA exchanges combined with administrative difficulties made signing up for health insurance frustrating and nearly impossible for some. Unique spellings of names, language barriers and even the makeup of Latino families can make it harder on individuals to explore the marketplaces, let alone find affordable coverage. Even though many Latinos qualify for financial assistance, they may not be able to navigate the websites in order to apply.

Despite these challenges, officials are hopeful that the new law will appeal to more young adults and Latinos in the future as state- and nationwide efforts increase to target this sector of the population. The key will be in making sure that different cultures receive specific information that relates to them, such as technology assistance among older Latinos in Texas. Next year’s enrollment period may see an upswing in the number of Latinos who sign up for health insurance.