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Big gains in Latino health insurance coverage poised to slip during chaotic enrollment season

Paula Andalo, Kaiser Health News on

Published in Health & Fitness

Latinos, who just a year ago were highly sought customers for the Affordable Care Act's marketplace plans may not get the same hard sell this year.

The Trump administration's laissez-faire approach toward the upcoming enrollment period for the health law's insurance marketplaces could reverse advances made in the number of Latinos with coverage, fear navigators and community activists.

Enrollment outreach efforts during the Obama administration targeted Latinos, both because they have a high uninsured rate and because a large proportion of the community is young and fairly healthy, criteria prized by insurers to help balance older, sicker customers, who are more likely to sign up.

Nearly a million people who identify themselves as Latino or Hispanic enrolled in marketplace plans this year, making up a tenth of customers. The uninsured rate among Latinos dropped from 43 percent in 2010 to under 25 percent in 2016. Still, millions are eligible and remain uninsured.

A shorter enrollment season and cutbacks in federal funding for marketing and navigator groups have the potential to allow Latino enrollment to slip, the advocates say.

Enrollment for the 39 states using the federal website begins Nov. 1 and ends Dec. 15, about a month and a half less than in the previous year. Some states running their own exchanges have extended that period into January.

Claudia Maldonado, program director for the Keogh Health Connection in Phoenix, an organization that connects underserved people with health services, said uncertainty is what dominates these days. "We're getting ready, because we know it's going to be a difficult open enrollment period."

The Spanish-language enrollment website, cuidadodesalud.gov, will be operating again this year, federal officials said, but it will face the same scheduled maintenance shutdowns as its Anglo sibling, HealthCare.gov.

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), which manages the federal online insurance marketplaces, announced last month that the sites would be "closed for maintenance" for half the day on Sundays during the open enrollment period. The states that run their own marketplaces, such as California and New York, will not be affected by the shutdowns.

It's unfortunate the service disruption of cuidadodesalud.gov will happen on Sundays, said Daniel Bouton, director of health services for the Community Council of Greater Dallas, a nonprofit that helps Latinos sign up for health care. "The day that Hispanic families go to church, where they are all together and where we have been enrolling them in previous years."

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