Will Obama’s Immigration Order Increase Obamacare Enrollment?

November 26, 2014 by No Comments

Medical doctor woman using tablet pc

Hispanic enrollees have long been a targeted demographic for the Affordable Care Act: historically among the most uninsured populations in the United States, with 29% lacking coverage in 2012 compared with 10% of Caucasians, Hispanics also skew younger, giving the Obama Administration a chance to register high numbers of healthier, previously uninsured Americans. However, relatively few people from this group have signed up for federal healthcare, with Latinos accounting for a mere of 7.4% of enrollments in 36 states. Some have theorized that this low rate is due to legal residents who are worried that they might endanger undocumented relatives; meanwhile, critics have blamed the limited availability of Spanish-language resources for the dismal turnout. But in light of President Barack Obama’s immigration order, many have suggested that the tides may soon turn.

On November 20, Obama announced that he would be making an executive order that would extend temporary legal status to around five million undocumented people. However, because these people are not citizens and only have protected status for three years, they will not be eligible for subsidized health care. But because certain groups, including the parents of American citizens or green card holders and people brought to the U.S. as children, will not be at risk of deportation, it is likely that their legal family members will feel more comfortable signing up for health insurance. Additionally, immigrants who were previously forced to seek out shadow jobs due to fears of discovery may be able to search for positions that offer health insurance.

As an estimated 76% of undocumented immigrants are believed to be Hispanic, this decision could have significant impacts on both the ACA’s enrollment numbers and the healthcare options available to Hispanic families. Accordingly, federal and state agencies are both taking steps to increase community awareness of their programs. For example, before the second period of open enrollment began on November 15, Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Matthews Burwell interviewed with Univision, Telemundo and several Latina bloggers. Meanwhile, influential Hispanic officials, such as Office of Personal Management Director Katherine Archuleta and Labor Secretary Tom Perez, were sent to cities like Houston and Cleveland to lend support.

However, the change that is likely to be the most effective is the renewed efforts towards creating Spanish-language resources for enrollees. While CiudadodeSalud.gov, the Spanish version of HealthCare.gov, was not available until December of 2013 and had a number of faulty features, officials say this year’s rollout was much smoother. States like New York and California have also released their own Spanish-language health care websites, while Washington, D.C. and Florida are cooperating with Latin American embassies to help answer questions about the service.

But while there seem to be a number of positive options for legal and protected Hispanics, those who did not receive protection from Obama’s executive order, including recent immigrants, still lack health coverage. Fortunately, a number of opportunities, often in the private sector, do exist to help those without health insurance get the care they need: urgent care centers, for example, do not require health insurance, although the clinics do accept coverage to help pay for care. These clinics have helped revolutionize the current American healthcare system, reducing the average person’s need to visit an emergency room: for example, an estimated 80.7% of urgent care centers offer treatment for bone fractures and splinting procedures, an extremely common injury in the U.S.

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