Study: ObamaCare, outreach could boost Hispanic health coverage

A new analysis points to expanding Medicaid under ObamaCare and improving outreach efforts as ways to lower the stubbornly high uninsured rate among Hispanics. 

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Hispanics have long had higher uninsured rates. The Commonwealth Fund, a health research group, finds that ObamaCare is making a dent but that the rate remains high. 

It reports that the uninsured rate for Hispanics declined from 40 percent in 2012 to 34 percent in 2014, amid ObamaCare’s expansion. But that is compared to a decline of 20 percent to 18 percent among blacks and 14 percent to 10 percent among whites. 

The Commonwealth Fund analysis points to ObamaCare’s expansion of Medicaid, the government health insurance program for the poor, as a major factor. 

In states that have accepted the expansion of eligibility, 26 percent of Hispanics are uninsured, compared to a much higher 46 percent in states that have rejected the expansion, the analysis finds. 

Texas and Florida, it notes, are home to the largest proportion of uninsured Hispanics. The Republican governors of the two states have rejected a Medicaid expansion and have backed a lawsuit against the Obama administration over what they call an effort to force their states to expand the program by linking separate federal funds to the decision. 

The analysis also points to barriers that need to be overcome with outreach. It finds that 79 percent of uninsured Latinos speak English “just a little” or “not at all.”

It points to California as an example. The state does not have a five-year waiting period for legal immigrants to be eligible, and has invested in an outreach push. A Kaiser Family Foundation study found that half of all previously uninsured Hispanics in the state gained coverage during ObamaCare’s first year of enrollment.

Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell acknowledged last month that for African-Americans and Hispanics, the statistics are "not probably exactly where you want to be because the numbers are still high." 

She noted efforts during ObamaCare’s enrollment period to encourage sign-ups, including her stop at a largely African-American church in Texas, a Hispanic ad buy, and messages on receipts at 7-Elevens. 

"We did a lot of things to highly target those communities," Burwell said. "I believe we can do more."

"We tried a lot of things," she added. "And now we have to analyze which ones work."

On Monday, Burwell marked the anniversary of a landmark 1985 report on minority health. She noted gains in minority coverage from the Affordable Care Act, but said there is more work to do.

"Although we’ve bridged some of the coverage gap, minorities are still more likely to be uninsured than white Americans," she said. "That’s why we still have more work to do to make sure our health system is working for communities of color."