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Race to Enroll Texas Latinos as Obamacare Deadline Looms

PHOTO: As many as 1 in 4 uninsured individuals eligible for coverage through the Health Insurance Marketplace nationwide are Latino. Photo credit: Eden Pictures
PHOTO: As many as 1 in 4 uninsured individuals eligible for coverage through the Health Insurance Marketplace nationwide are Latino. Photo credit: Eden Pictures
March 24, 2014

AUSTIN, Texas - With a major deadline looming for all to have health care coverage or face possible penalties, the race is on to enroll the uninsured. Special focus is on the Latino population. Nationwide, 32 percent of Latinos are uninsured, compared to 16 percent of non-Latinos. In Texas, an estimated 3.5 million Hispanics have no health insurance.

Mayra Lopez, outreach specialist, Latino HealthCare Forum, said a majority of Latinos are eligible for "Obamacare."

"Try to enroll," Lopez said. "See if you qualify. If you don't qualify, it will tell you and it will give you options of what you can do. The worst thing is not to try to enroll. I think it's one of the most important things that we've had happen to us as Latinos or Hispanics. We are eligible now to be insured with the marketplace."

One barrier that Hispanics have historically faced to getting coverage is financial. However, tax credits available can greatly reduce the cost of the premiums, said Sophia Castillo, certified application counselor manager with CentroMed, San Antonio.

"A premium could be as little as 10 cents a month up to $120 a month," Castillo explained. "It varies depending on how much credits they qualify for, which is based on the total number of family members and their income."

In addition to improving the health of the Latino community with greater access to illness prevention and care, Lopez said closing the insurance gap should also improve the overall financial strength of Latino families.

"Let's say one of your kids falls and they break an arm," Lopez said. "That's like $3,000-something, on average, at the doctor. That's money you might not have at hand, and you might end up with that bill. Health insurance is definitely going to provide a more reassuring financial stability for our community."

The efforts around Latinos and health care are not just ongoing in Texas, but across the nation, with some 10 million Latinos eligible, according to Mayra Alvarez, associate director, Office of Minority Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

"It's an important opportunity to ensure that the growing Latino population is healthy and therefore more able to contribute to the well-being of their communities, be successful in school and contribute to their workplace productivity," Alvarez said.

A large majority of Latinos in the U.S. are English-dominant, and 63 percent were born in this country. The longer people reside in the U.S., the more likely they are to have health insurance, according to U.S. Census data.

The deadline to enroll in a marketplace plan for this year is one week from today, March 31. Those who do not have health coverage could face possible penalties.

Individuals may be exempted from the requirement to buy insurance if they file a form and qualify (for example, if their previous plan was terminated and no affordable alternative plan is available). If they think insurance is unaffordable based on their projected income, they may be allowed to buy a policy for catastrophic coverage only. Information about exemptions is available at www.healthcare.gov/exemptions/.

Enrollment is available by calling 800-318-2596 or visiting www.HealthCare.gov (English) or www.CuidadoDeSalud.gov (Spanish).

This story was produced with data and editorial assistance from NewsTaco, and made possible by the Hispanic Access Foundation.

John Michaelson, Public News Service - TX