Latinos and Obamacare
Source: The Record
Navigating rules and regulations involved in pursuing health insurance for an individual or family can be challenging even in the best of circumstances. As Staff Writer Lindy Washburn reports, however, those challenges can be doubly difficult to overcome for America's Latino population, among whom it is estimated that one in four nationwide is uninsured.
Such facts are deeply troubling when we consider that, in New Jersey alone, 261,000 Latinos remain uninsured even though they are eligible for some type of coverage, including Medicaid or one of the plans available for enrollment through the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. Significantly, Latinos in New Jersey have been slow to sign up for health coverage, and they lag behind their counterparts in the Mexican border states of Texas, Arizona and New Mexico.
"Unless they are reached, the state will not achieve full enrollment in the health-insurance marketplace," said Raymond Castro, senior analyst with New Jersey Policy Perspective. According to Castro, one in three of the state's remaining uninsured are Latinos eligible for Medicaid or Obamacare policies.
Part of the problem is the language barrier, and part is a general lack of awareness about what insurance options are available. As The Record reported, that may be changing. Sign-up sessions for enrollment in Obamacare, for instance, like those held recently at libraries in Passaic, are aimed at spreading the word on insurance options among the Latino community. Also, for the first time, bilingual workers are going into the community to enroll residents in Paterson and Passaic, two cities with large Hispanic populations.
Another problem for poor immigrants concerns Medicaid sign-up. Under a 1996 federal law, adult immigrants here legally — those with incomes below $15,730 for a couple and below $23,850 for a family — must wait five years to be eligible for the state-run Medicaid program. Under the administration of Gov. Jon Corzine, New Jersey used state funds to allow newer immigrants to receive Medicaid, but that program was ended by Governor Christie in an effort to solve the 2010 budget gap.
Then there is the issue related to the larger immigration question: Some families with members of various immigration statuses may be wary of answering tough questions concerning insurance sign-up, fearing they will have to answer tougher questions about status.
Community advocates, officials and volunteers are to be commended for investing time to educate Latinos about health insurance options. Though the issue is many-sided and, at times, thorny, improving access to health care for Latinos is critical to building a more sustainable, efficient and affordable health care system for all.