Feb. 12--The Affordable Care Act has a Hispanic problem: Eligible and uninsured Hispanics, in the states where their numbers are greatest, have not flocked to sign up for coverage options made available by the health law.
On Tuesday, the Obama administration stepped up its effort to change that with a report emphasizing the large number of uninsured Hispanics in the United States and their high rates of eligibility for government aid.
According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, almost eight in 10 eligible uninsured Hispanics nationwide -- roughly 8.1 million -- qualify for Medicaid, the Children's Health Insurance Programor financial aid to buy a health plan on federal and state insurance exchanges.
About 3.4 million Hispanics in Florida qualify for some form of government help getting health insurance, according to the report, and almost 1 million of them are uninsured.
In the Miami-Hialeah area -- an area highlighted in the report -- about 394,000 residents are eligible uninsured Hispanics, accounting for about 37 percent of the state's total.
Cecilia Munoz, director of the White House Domestic Policy Council, said during a news conference Tuesday that "robust outreach efforts [are] underway" in Hispanic communities across the country.
"The vast majority of uninsured Latinos that we're talking about," she said, "can find affordable options available to them under the law."
Enrollment fairs in states including Texas and Florida, two of the three states with the highest numbers of eligible uninsured Hispanics, have been taking place regularly since at least December.
HHS also has partnered with Spanish-language media giants, such as Univision, to promote the law.
And HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius has kept a steady schedule of tours and public engagements promoting the health law, with a special emphasis on Hispanics, including visits to Miami in September and December to tout the ACA's benefits for Hispanics.
The federally run exchange at healthcare.gov, which serves 36 states including Florida, does not require applicants to report race or ethnicity, said Mayra alvarez, associate director of HHS' Office of Minority Health.
So it's not possible for the federal government to say exactly how many Hispanics have enrolled in a health plan.
But there have been setbacks in the push for enrollment -- notably a delay launching the federally run, Spanish-language online portal, CuidadoDeSalud.gov, which opened two months after the Oct. 1 start of enrollment, with an official debut in January.
Early reports from California, the state with the largest number of eligible uninsured Latinos -- 2.8 million -- have not been promising. Covered California, the state-based insurance exchange, reported that Hispanics made up only about 20 percent of the 625,000 people who had enrolled by late January -- though almost half of all uninsured Californians eligible for financial aid to buy a health plan are Hispanic.
The White House is pushing against that tide.
Tuesday's report stated that if all states were to expand Medicaid, then 95 percent, or almost 9.6 million eligible uninsured Latinos, would qualify for some form of government aid. Twenty-five states, including Florida, did not expand Medicaid eligibility.
The report included pricing estimates for sample health plans that would cost as little as $86 a month to cover a family of four earning $50,000 a year with the lowest-level "bronze" plan, which covers 60 percent of healthcare costs after the deductible.
The Obama administration also released a video featuring a 25-year-old Sarasota woman, Stefania Fochi, who had been uninsured for the past four years and works making empanadas and pasta at her family's business.
"These stories, these numbers, these cost savings that we have in these reports," alvarez said, "they're real people. And that's going to make a difference."
The open-enrollment period for a health plan through the exchanges is scheduled to end March 31. In mid-January, HHS reported that as many as 2.2 million Americans had selected a health plan using the Health Insurance Marketplace, with women and older people making up the majority of those enrollments.
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Original headline: Obama administration report: 8 million uninsured Hispanics nationwide eligible for health coverage
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