WASHINGTON — In the popular media, the face of the person whom Colorado health officials want to sign up for health insurance is young and white. But under the radar, that person is Hispanic.
Since Gov. John Hickenlooper signed a state-based health exchange into law in June 2011, state officials and interest groups have organized a campaign to enroll Latinos in health plans that comply with the Affordable Care Act, known as Obamacare. They have released plans, conducted polls, put out ads, and test-marketed their efforts.
“Members of the uninsured group are more likely to speak a language other than English at home compared to the insured group, and the language usually is Spanish,” the Colorado Health Institute concluded in a November 2013 report.
Although the outreach of state officials and nonprofits has not made headlines, it has won the respect of close observers. Gabriel Sanchez, an associate professor of political science at the University of New Mexico, praised the work of Adelante con la Salud, a non profit that has commissioned surveys of the attitudes of Colorado Latinos to Obamacare.
“Adelante’s really very culturally confident in Colorado. They’ve worked in Denver and the southern part of the state. They are flying under the radar, but they have test-marketed their campaign to see if it has been successful and adjusted it,” Sanchez said in an interview.
For Obamacare supporters in Colorado, Latinos are vital to the success of the new health care law.
Not only are a disproportionate number of Latinos uninsured; 28 percent said they did not have insurance for one month at least in the last 12 months, according to the Colorado Health Institute, while 47 percent told the U.S. census in 2010. (The comparable figure for whites is 20 percent).
Also, the typical Latino in Colorado is 26 years old. That’s more than a decade younger than the typical age of his or white counterpart, 40.
Because Obamacare requires that the oldest person enrolled in an individual health plan can be charged no more than three times that of the youngest person, the law needs young, healthy people to defray the costs of older, sicker people.
Yet the results of the campaign to enroll Hispanics in Colorado have been uneven so far.
Although state and federal officials have not broken down the sign-up figures among Colorado’s uninsured by race or ethnicity, poll results suggests and observers conclude that sign-up efforts have fallen short.
Fifty-six percent said the Affordable Care Act would make their ability to get and keep health insurance worse or stay the same, according to a Latino Decisions poll of 800 Hispanic adults in Colorado in October.
Eighty-four percent said they had neither visited the website or called to obtain health insurance.
In addition, nearly two in three Hispanics said they want the health-care website either to be in Spanish or in English and Spanish. Yet the Spanish version of healthcare.gov did not work until December, a delay that rendered many Hispanics unable to enroll.
“The clock is ticking, and it may be too late to emerge the Latino community,” Sanchez concluded in a report last month.
On the other hand, most Hispanics in Colorado said they are familiar with the law. Fifty-three percent said they were very or somewhat informed about the law, according to the Latino Decisions poll in October. Thirty-four percent knew they had to pay a fine if they did not obtain a health policy; thirty-three percent knew about the mandate to purchase a plan. In addition, 77 percent said they had seen ads that promote the law.
At least in public, federal health officials have expressed optimism about the likelihood that the uninsured will enroll in Obamacare. “There is still plenty of time,” Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius wrote in a statement accompanying the release of the third update about national sign-up figures in January.
Yet the lesson form Colorado’s sign-up figures for Hispanics has been sobering to some advocates of the law.
Although Sebelius wrote in a blog post last month that the national sign-up figures among young adults were similar to those that had signed up in Massachusetts in 2006, Sanchez acknowledged that the Bay State is atypical in some ways, as it does not have as many Hispanics as Colorado.
While ten percent of Massachusetts’ population was Hispanic in 2010, 21 percent of Colorado’s was.
“It’s the invincibles,” Sanchez said, referring to the group that a typical Latino in Colorado falls under. “They all think, ‘I’m not going to get sick.’”