ObamaCare outreach to Hispanics in 'overdrive'

ObamaCare advocates are intensifying their efforts to bring Hispanics into the health insurance exchanges before the sign-up deadline on Feb. 15.

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), Enroll America and other national groups are focused on reaching Spanish speakers with more than 600 local enrollment events scheduled in the next four weeks, the coalition announced Wednesday.

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The movement to increase ObamaCare enrollment is also reaching out to Hispanics with advertisements and in cyberspace. HHS roughly tripled the amount of paid media dollars focused on Spanish speakers this year, according to Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell.

Enrolling Hispanics represents a test for the Obama administration in the exchanges' second year. Spanish speakers remain the most likely group to be uninsured in the United States despite targeted efforts to bring them into the marketplaces last year.

"Because this community's uninsured rate was so high to begin with, it is still true today that Latinos are more likely to be uninsured than other Americans," said Enroll America President Anne Filipic on a call with reporters Wednesday.

"We will be kicking our efforts into overdrive starting this week ... [as] we expect that many people will once again wait until the final days to make their decisions."

The additional focus on Hispanics comes as the administration nears its enrollment target for this year. Nearly 6.8 million people have picked plans or re-enrolled in coverage at HealthCare.gov since Nov. 15, a figure that is starting to approach the goal of 9 million sign-ups.

The share of Hispanics picking plans appears to be slightly higher than last year: as of Dec. 15, 8 percent of enrollments on the federal marketplace were from people who identified themselves as Hispanic compared with 7 percent in 2014, according to HHS.

The administration cautioned that these figures are incomplete, because not everyone who enrolls gives their ethnicity. But it was clear Burwell is seeking stronger enrollment from the Hispanic community prior to Feb. 15.

Health officials are taking advantage of their experience from last year to make smarter outreach decisions, she said, including increasing Spanish-language outreach and in-person assistance. HHS has also learned that a higher proportion of Hispanics access the enrollment website through mobile technology, Burwell said.

At the same time, she would not name a specific enrollment target for Hispanics.

"We view the number in the context of the progress we've made for all of open enrollment," Burwell said. "We want to make even more progress in the next four weeks."