Early Numbers Show Latinos' Late Surge in Obamacare Signups

Image: Esther Guzman, Janelle Hartley
Esther Guzman, left, gets health insurance enrollment information from Janelle Hartley, right, Thursday March 13, 2014, during a Covered California rally in Los Angeles. On May 1st, 2014, the Obama administration said over 8 million Americans had enrolled in healthcare plans. Nick Ut / AP

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The Obama administration released data Thursday reflecting the difficulty it had persuading Latinos to buy health insurance plans and the late surge of interest from Hispanics as it worked out website problems and targeted the community.

Getting a precise picture of how Latinos responded to the administration's call to "get covered" or "asegúrate," is difficult because almost a third of those who enrolled in plans through federally-operated marketplaces did not report their race or ethnicity or chose "other."

Of those who signed up for a health plan through the federal insurance marketplace, 10.7 percent, or 403,632, identified as Hispanic, according to the data released by the Department of Health and Human Services. The administration had previously calculated 14.5 percent of the population eligible to enroll in federal marketplaces would be Hispanic, said a White House official who spoke to reporters on condition the official not be identified.

But data on race and ethnicity from mid-February to the end of enrollment on March 30 showed faster growth in enrollment among minorities than whites.

These figures do not include the number of Latinos who qualify to obtain health insurance through Medicaid - which is ongoing - as well as those in 14 states that run their own insurance exchanges. The administration reported that another 4.8 million Americans enrolled in Medicaid and CHIP (Children's Health Insurance Program), which will add to Latino enrollment numbers.

The highest shares of Latinos who enrolled through a federally-run marketplace were in border states. In Texas and New Mexico, about a third of enrollees who identified their race or ethnicity were Latino, about a quarter in Arizona and nearly a fifth in Florida.

California ran its own health insurance marketplace and reported 28 percent of those who enrolled as Latino, a share that grew by about 8 percentage points from the end of December through the end of February.

In Washington state, almost 7 percent of the 152,753 people who enrolled reported their ethnicity as Latino, but more than two-thirds did not claim an ethnicity and race was reported separately in the state data.

Enrollment in exchanges begins again in November.

Administration officials said the last enrollment period provided lessons on what worked to boost Latino enrollment. The more effective strategies were holding health enrollment workshops to assist people in person, using radio and social media messages and partnering with Spanish-language organizations.

Also key, the administration learned the importance of addressing fear in the community over whether information about enrolleees' family members without legal status would be used for immigration purposes. People not legally in the country cannot buy insurance on the marketplaces, but many Latino and immigrant families have a mix of citizens and non-citizen members.