(This article was originally published in the Washington Times)
Obamacare’s open-enrollment period may have ended with a bang, but Hispanics weren’t exactly celebrating. The latest Pew poll shows growing discontent: As many Hispanics now disapprove of Obamacare as support it. The latest Washington Post poll reflects a seven-point drop in support among Hispanics during the past month — at the very time the White House made its greatest effort to sell the law as a success.
More damning still is that despite the fact that Hispanics are the largest population without insurance, our community’s uninsured rate has declined by less than 2 percent since Obamacare took effect. Based on the best current data, 37 percent of Hispanics are still uninsured.
These dismal numbers reflect the fact that Obamacare has too many shortcomings for our community — but much of the blame also lies with the administration’s Obamacare outreach. They’ve ignored Hispanics, patronized us, ordered us around or outright insulted us.
Look no further than President Obama’s Hispanic town hall for proof. During the event, a caller asked the president why he had to fork over one-tenth of his family’s $36,000 income for health insurance. This question could have been asked by almost any Hispanic across the country — the average Hispanic family’s income is only 17 percent higher than the caller’s income.
The president’s response? We don’t know how to prioritize our budgets.
This is more than a patronizing suggestion that Hispanics rethink how we spend our money. It’s a direct order from the president. If we don’t heed his demand, we’ll have to pay a penalty that by 2016 will be a minimum of nearly $700 for individuals or $2,100 for families.
Depending on subsidies, this penalty may end up being cheaper than the health insurance the White House thinks we should buy. Obamacare’s plans are most expensive for 27-year-olds — the median age for Hispanics in the United States.
Either way, we’re forced to spend more money. This stands in stark contrast to our pre-Obamacare financia freedom and to the president’s promise that his law would be affordable. Then, our income was ours to do with as we saw fit. Such freedom was part and parcel of why Hispanics came to America in the first place.
Faced with this financial slap in the face, it’s no surprise that many Hispanics are opting not to enroll. There are also problems plaguing those who may want to sign up. For them, Obamacare’s Hispanic marketing has fallen flat.
California — the state with the most Hispanics in the country — is a case study in this demographic failure. Covered California, the state’s exchange, has gone from mistake to mistake in its Hispanic marketing.
At first, the marketing team simply translated ads from English to Spanish with no thought to whether English idioms and phrases made sense to Spanish speakers. Throughout the process, there’s been no real effort to listen to the concerns of the Hispanic community and to address them. When supporters of the law saw the plans being offered, many found that premiums and deductibles were simply too high — a problem many critics warned of beforehand.
Covered California is taking credit for more than 3 million people who signed up for care, but a closer look at the numbers shows some red flags. Only 300,000 Hispanics chose private insurance plans through the state exchange — even though 1.2 million qualified for insurance subsidies. An additional 800,000 signed up for government-run Medi-Cal, as the state’s Medicaid program is known. Federal and state taxpayers pick up the full cost of this troubled program, which is known for inferior results and limited choice of doctors.
Even with the late enrollment surge, Hispanics wound up underrepresented among Obamacare consumers. While Hispanics make up half of the state’s uninsured population — and were frequently touted as the biggest beneficiaries of the new system — just 28 percent of all state enrollees were Hispanics.
This fiasco could have been avoided from the start. Bizarrely, Covered California’s governing board has no Hispanic member who can speak for the community’s needs. That’s an amazing oversight in a state where Hispanics now outnumber whites.
These problems aren’t unique to California. In Texas, the state with the second-highest Hispanic population, a congressman recently lamented the lack of “culturally sensitive” Hispanic outreach. A majority of the state’s Hispanics now have an unfavorable view of the law.
At the end of the day, Obamacare is a one-size-fits-all mandate that doesn’t meet the Hispanic community’s needs. We want the freedom to make our own decisions about what’s best for our health and our families. Instead, Obamacare tries to substitute Washington’s “wisdom” for our own.
The latest polls show Hispanics aren’t buying what Washington is selling. Maybe it’s because we prefer to make economic and health care choices for ourselves.
Daniel Garza is the executive director of the LIBRE Initiative.