President Barack Obama sought to reassure families with a mixture of U.S. citizens and immigrants here illegally that their personal information would not be shared with immigration officials if they sign up for health care.
With the March 31 deadline looming, the president said Thursday at a town hall directed at Latinos, "none of the information provided (to buy health insurance) is in any way transferred to immigration services."
The administration has been concerned about the lag in enrollment by Latinos for insurance under the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare. Latinos are key to the success of Obamacare in part because the population is the largest uninsured population and is younger and younger people tend to be healthier, which offsets overall insurance costs.
Obama participated in the town hall, held in English and Spanish, as part of a full court press to get Latinos to sign up for coverage. He also has done a video directed at Latinos.
"You don't punish me by not signing up for health care," Obama said. "You're punishing yourself and your family."
The next chance to sign up is November.
"If everybody waits until the last minute, everybody waits until March 27 or 28, then in some ways it's a self-fulfilling prophecy," Obama said. "If you have 5 million all going on the website at the same time … then yes there are going to be delays."
Playing up the positives, Obama said people who can't afford insurance will be exempted from buying it and may likely qualify for Medicaid or a subsidize children's health program.
Obama also warned against waiting for bipartisan immigration legislation to pass because "I've seen too many stories of people who did not have health insurance and tragedy struck.''
First published March 6 2014, 10:32 AM
Suzanne Gamboa is a senior writer for NBCNews.com. She started in January 2014. Gamboa is responsible for editing, reporting and writing stories about Latinos and how the population's expansion is reshaping the U.S. Gamboa joined NBCNews.com from NBC Latino, where she was political editor, responsible for writing, editing and assigning political coverage.
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Prior to her role at NBC Latino, Gamboa had worked 13 years in the Washington, D.C. bureau of The Associated Press, where she covered politics, immigration and border and U.S.-Mexico issues, veterans, the Texas congressional delegation and most recently race and ethnicity, a beat she helped build. She also worked at the AP in Texas and at the Austin American-Statesman.
Gamboa lives in Washington, D.C.