Latinos Lag Under Health Law

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from The Wall Street Journal,

Figures Show One in Four Hispanics Lack Coverage, Highest Among Any Racial or Ethnic Group.

One quarter of Hispanics in the U.S. lack health insurance, the highest rate for any racial or ethnic group, according to census data. Reducing that number will be one of the Obama administration’s biggest challenges when it reopens health-insurance exchanges for a second year on Saturday.

During the first year’s sign-up period, just 2.6 million of an estimated 10.2 million uninsured Hispanics eligible for coverage enrolled in health plans, according to an October report by the Department of Health and Human Services. The Latino uninsured rate among those ages 18 to 64 declined 18%, but that was a smaller percentage decrease than for other groups.

“Providing insurance to 2.6 million is a huge accomplishment,” said Mayra Alvarez, director of the state exchange group at HHS. But “we have more work to do.”

The experience of Brígida Hernández illustrates the obstacles ahead. She completed her application for health insurance under the Affordable Care Act on the final day of enrollment during its first year. But she said she never heard back on what she was told would be a request for additional information, and she let the matter drop. Despite having diabetes and arthritis, she’s not sure she’ll try again.

“The monthly payment was high for me,” said Ms. Hernandez, 50 years old, as she sat in a waiting room recently at the Borinquen Health Care Center, a community clinic here.

Latinos and other Americans who lack insurance typically turn to community health centers that cater to the uninsured and emergency rooms, or they forego treatment altogether. Government funding and hospital charity care programs absorb those costs.

Numerous factors hampered sign-ups. The Spanish version of the federal health-insurance website,, didn’t launch until December, and various glitches made it difficult to use. A shortage of Spanish-speaking enrollment aides, known as navigators, resulted in hourslong waits.

Uninsured Hispanics, who often knew little about copays, deductibles and provider networks, required more education than many advocates anticipated.

“It takes a heck of a lot longer to go through an application than any of us thought,” said Sinsi Hernández-Cancio, director of health equity at Families USA, an enrollment advocacy group.

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