HHS Secretary can fix administration’s missteps with Latinos

Now that Sylvia Mathews Burwell is the new secretary of Health and Human Services and in charge of Obamacare, she has an opportunity to fix something that her boss, the president, has yet to fully address: lackluster Latino enrollment in the health care program.

Setting aside the well-documented technical glitches with the computerized sign-up program for Obamacare, lower-than-expected Latino enrollment can be attributed to administration policies that undermined the drive for higher participation by Latinos and Latino immigrants in particular.

ADVERTISEMENT
First, the Obama administration erred in its decision not to allow young immigrants granted Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) to enroll in the health care program created by the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Relative to the general population, DACA recipients are young and healthy—exactly the type of enrollees our health care system needs for it to work, and whom the administration has been targeting the most for Obamacare.

As the nation approaches the second anniversary of the president’s creation of the DACA program for “DREAMers,” those who were brought to the U.S. as children without documents, there is little doubt about its success. They are authorized to live and work in the U.S. and  are required to pay taxes that help support the health care program. By and large, they have the same obligations and rights as other lawfully present individuals.

Yet, DACA participants have been shut out of Obamacare and not allowed to pay into the health care system and potentially bring down costs for all of us.

By doing so, the administration has thrown away the opportunity to enroll into Obamacare 550,000 young immigrants who have qualified for DACA, including many Latinos. And more than a million young immigrants eligible for DACA are waiting in the wings. We should be rushing to get all of them signed up for health insurance so that they can live healthy and productive lives and be full members of our country.

The second mistaken policy that has kept ACA from being more successful among Latinos is the administration’s record-setting deportations. The high deportation policy has cracked any foundation of trust the White House tried to establish with the Latino community regarding health insurance.

Though the U.S. Department of Homeland Security has reassured mixed status families that an application for Obamacare by eligible members will not lead to the deportation of unauthorized family members, skepticism runs high. Latinos have seen too many family members, neighbors and friends suffer under the current immigration system to not fear turning over personal information to a new government program.

The policy misstep regarding “DACAmented” immigrants is puzzling. The errant deportation policy is just as frustrating. Little wonder for the less than stellar enrollment numbers in Obamacare by Latinos.

As the demographic group with the highest uninsured rate (one-third of all Latinos are uninsured), the Obama administration had counted on a larger Latino participation rate. It also projected that higher enrollment by Latinos, who are generally younger and healthier than others in the U.S., would expand and improve the risk pool of the insured and thereby decrease costs for all.

The numbers have been disappointing. During the initial sign-up period for Obamacare that ended in March, Latinos accounted for only 10.7 percent of the millions people who signed up for health care insurance through the federal marketplaces created by ACA and who stated their race or ethnicity, even though Latinos make up 14.5 percent of those who are eligible.

The DACA and deportation policies are misguided and need to be fixed before the next enrollment period begins in November. DACA recipients should be allowed to pay their fair share for health care and participate in the marketplace and the President must end a disastrous deportation policy that separates families and erodes immigrants’ trust in government programs like Obamacare. 

Secretary Burwell can fix this situation today. She can choose to include DACA recipients in Obamacare and urge DHS to stop unnecessary deportations. Unless she pushes the administration in the right direction, President Obama risks undermining his very own signature law, and the legacy of leadership that comes with it.

Praeli is director of Advocacy and Policy at United We Dream.