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Congressional Hispanic Caucus Alarmed By No Work on Obamacare Latino Outreach

by Suzanne Gamboa /
Close-up of stethoscope (Photo by Universal Images Group via Getty Images)UniversalImagesGroup / UIG via Getty Images

WASHINGTON -- The Congressional Hispanic Caucus is demanding a meeting with Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price over what it is doing to ensure Hispanic families get enrolled in Obamacare.

The caucus sent a letter to Price Thursday saying it is "alarmed" that it hasn't yet begun working with a coalition of Latino advocacy groups called the Latino Affordable Care Act Coalition. The caucus said the coalition has been instrumental in making sure the government got word to the Latino community about the Affordable Care Act so they could get enrolled and get health coverage.

Alleigh Marre, national spokeswoman for HHS, said in an email in response to NBC Latino's questions about its plans: "We have received the letter and will respond."

According to members of the coalition, the administration would be meeting with the groups by now and preparing materials and strategies for the upcoming open enrollment period that begins in November. But the groups say they have not been meeting with the administration. The lack of work on Latino outreach was first reported by Talking Points Memo Thursday.

CHC members, including CHC chair Michelle Lujan Grisham, D-N.M., said the coalition has been instrumental in ensuring that millions of Hispanic families are able to navigate the health care system.

 From left, Democratic Caucus Chairman Rep. Joe Crowley, D-N.Y., Congressional Hispanic Caucus Chair Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham, D-N.M., Rep. Linda Sanchez, D-Calif., and Rep. Nanette Barragan, D-Calif., after a meeting with DHS Secetary Friday, March, 17, 2017 (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite) J. Scott Applewhite / AP

"The ACA remains the law of the land," the CHC told Price in its letter. The caucus members urged HHS to "prioritize Latino outreach and enrollment efforts for the 2018 enrollment period that begins in November.

"Thanks to the ACA, 4 million adults and more than 600,000 Latino children have gained health coverage. Moreover we have seen a 20-point decline in the number of uninsured Latino ... However, one in six Latinos remain uninsured so more work needs to be done to reach these communities," the Congressional Hispanic Caucus said in the letter.

Maria Teresa Kumar, founding president and CEO of Voto Latino, said the coalition helped with reaching Latino youth and her organization helped get former first lady Michelle Obama on bilingual radio to get the message out about enrollment,

Speaking to young Latinos is key because the Latino population is younger and younger people tend to be healthier. Healthier people help spread the risk for health insurance coverage.

"This is one way to put a nail in the coffin of Obamacare, by ensuring the largest, youngest group of Americans are not enrolling," Kumar said.

President Donald Trump and Republicans in Congress tried but failed to repeal Obamacare. Trump has since threatened to make Obamacare "implode" by ending subsidies that lower costs of coverage for lower income people. The subsidies remain in place right now.

Such talk and the congressional attempts to repeal the ACA and cut Medicaid have left many Latinos confused, said Steven Lopez, associate director of the health policy project at UnidosUS (formerly the National Council of La Raza). He said his group has held a couple of Facebook Live events to help clear up confusion and misinformation in the community.

Lopez said previously, by this time, there would have been meetings with the administration to discuss its plans for open enrollment and for targeting Latinos.

 Former President Barack Obama participates in a March 6, 204 town hall at the Newseum in Washington, D.C. that included Telemundo and NBC anchor Jose Diaz-Balart and was intended to help promote Obamacare enrollment among Latinos. (Photo by Michael Reynolds-Pool/Getty Images) Pool / Getty Images

Lopez said the Latino Coalition brought to the administration fears among Latino families made up of citizens and non-citizens that identifying information they submitted when they signed up for Obamacare would be turned over to immigration officials. The coalition also helped spread the word that the information would not be shared after the administration gave its assurances, he said.

The groups also helped ensure materials were distributed to the community in Spanish and that the Spanish was correct, Lopez and Kumar said.

The groups have large networks. UnidosUS has 300 affiliates and VotoLatino reaches many young Latinos through its social media and online work. Other member groups include League of United Latin American Citizens, which has councils nationally, on campuses and programs for younger Latinos, Hispanic Federation and National Latino Institute for Reproductive Health.

"We're uniquely positioned to address the needs and priorities and lift up the community," Lopez said. "Unidos has 300 affiliate networks who have the pulse of the community and having that unique community perspective is important to have an effective outreach plan."

"ACA remains the law of the land," he said. "We worked with past administrations and we are ready to work with this administration and this administration has a responsibility to successfully implement the law, not undermine it."

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