How Obamacare Glitches Could Put Hispanics in Play

The health law’s enrollment problems are chipping away at what was once strong support for the ACA among a core group of Democratic voters.

A woman looks at the HealthCare.gov insurance exchange internet site October 1, 2013 in Washington, DC. US President Barack Obama's Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare as it is commonly called, passed in March 2010, went into effect Tuesday at 8am EST. Heavy Internet traffic and system problems plagued the launch of the new health insurance exchanges Tuesday morning. Consumers attempting to log on were met with an error message early Tuesday due to an overload of Internet traffic. 
National Journal
Beth Reinhard
Nov. 4, 2013, 4:01 p.m.

After two elec­tion cycles of Demo­crats suc­cess­fully mar­ket­ing Obama­care to His­pan­ic voters, the health care law’s rocky start could turn in­to a bar­gain­ing chip for Re­pub­lic­ans.

His­pan­ic adults have sup­por­ted Pres­id­ent Obama’s Af­ford­able Care Act at a rate twice that of whites. More than 10 mil­lion His­pan­ics — roughly one-fourth of the total un­in­sured pop­u­la­tion — stand to be­ne­fit from the law. An out­size pro­por­tion of the eli­gible His­pan­ics are the healthy mil­len­ni­als who could make or break uni­ver­sal health care.

But glitches on the en­roll­ment site are block­ing His­pan­ics (and every­one else) from sign­ing up for sub­sid­ized in­sur­ance, while the Span­ish-lan­guage web­site has been delayed un­til fur­ther no­tice. In a sur­pris­ing gaffe by an ad­min­is­tra­tion that has put a premi­um on His­pan­ic out­reach, the site geared to­ward His­pan­ics fea­tured pic­tures of Asi­an-Amer­ic­ans at one point.

Add to that news of hun­dreds of thou­sands of people in states with large His­pan­ic pop­u­la­tions re­ceiv­ing can­cel­la­tion no­tices from in­surers and Re­pub­lic­ans see an av­en­ue to court one of the most sought-after groups of voters in Amer­ica.

“This is an open­ing for Re­pub­lic­ans be­cause Latino op­tim­ism about ex­pand­ing health care is start­ing to wane like the rest of the pop­u­la­tion,” said poll­ster Gab­ri­el Sanc­hez, an as­so­ci­ate pro­fess­or of polit­ic­al sci­ence at the Uni­versity of New Mex­ico. “The Re­pub­lic­an strategy of ham­mer­ing at the health care law could work among Lati­nos.”

In­deed, in the first pub­licly re­leased sur­vey ana­lyz­ing Obama­care’s im­pact on His­pan­ics since the launch, 34 per­cent said health care costs will get worse un­der the law. The Latino De­cisions poll of 300 His­pan­ic adults in Col­or­ado from Oct. 14 to 18 also showed slight down­turns in views of the law’s im­pact on the qual­ity of health care and the abil­ity of people to get or keep in­sur­ance.

In­flu­en­cing those neg­at­ive views is Span­ish-lan­guage me­dia, which fre­quently sym­path­izes with the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s goal of im­mig­ra­tion re­form but has been doc­u­ment­ing the health care law’s troubled rol­lout. Uni­vi­sion, for ex­ample, in­ter­viewed a Brook­lyn bakery own­er whose phone num­ber was mis­takenly lis­ted as a con­tact for ACA en­roll­ment.

A lead­ing His­pan­ic Re­pub­lic­an crit­ic of the health care law and a po­ten­tial pres­id­en­tial con­tender in 2016, Sen. Marco Ru­bio of Flor­ida, has seized on the delay of the Span­ish-lan­guage web­site.

“His­pan­ics have among the highest un­in­sured rates in the na­tion. Yet des­pite hun­dreds of mil­lions of dol­lars de­voted to a Span­ish-lan­guage pro­pa­ganda cam­paign, the Span­ish-lan­guage Obama­care web­site hasn’t even been launched,” Ru­bio said in a re­cent state­ment. “It’s not fair to pun­ish any­one for not buy­ing Obama­care when the web­site they are sup­posed to buy it on doesn’t work.”

Across the coun­try, His­pan­ic groups have launched a massive out­reach pro­gram to beat back wide­spread con­fu­sion about the law. That’s es­pe­cially crit­ic­al while the Span­ish-lan­guage web­site is down, said state Rep. Dar­ren Soto, who rep­res­ents a His­pan­ic-heavy dis­trict near Or­lando that over­whelm­ingly favored Obama.

“The web site needs to be fixed soon­er rather than later,” Soto warned. “The out­reach is crit­ic­al be­cause so many people aren’t watch­ing the news or on the In­ter­net but you can reach them at a Pu­erto-Ric­an parade or health care fair.”

In Col­or­ado, the ad­vocacy ap­pears to be mak­ing a dif­fer­ence. The Latino De­cisions poll found that 54 per­cent said they were very or some­what in­formed about the new health care law. Less than half, 43 per­cent, were un­able to name any of its new policies.

Demo­crat­ic con­sult­ants dis­miss the ar­gu­ment that Re­pub­lic­ans might gain from the health law’s weak rol­lout, point­ing to the GOP-led House’s res­ist­ance to im­mig­ra­tion re­form. “Re­pub­lic­ans have less than zero cred­ib­il­ity with Lati­nos,” said Demo­crat­ic con­sult­ant Maria Car­dona, who spe­cial­izes in the His­pan­ic vote. “As long as they get the web­site fixed, the stature of the Demo­crat­ic Party in the Latino com­munity will be fine.”

His­pan­ics over­whelm­ingly re­jec­ted Re­pub­lic­an nom­in­ee Mitt Rom­ney, with more than one out of sev­en fa­vor­ing Obama. Rom­ney blamed Obama’s friendly im­mig­ra­tion policy and the health care law. “With His­pan­ic voters, free health care was a big plus,” Rom­ney said last Novem­ber.

But as the Re­pub­lic­an Na­tion­al Com­mit­tee ramps up its His­pan­ic out­reach, Obama­care’s prob­lems will be a theme. Along with fum­bling the rol­lout of the health care law, Obama failed to make good on his vow to pass im­mig­ra­tion re­form in his first year in of­fice and has de­por­ted a re­cord num­ber of il­leg­al im­mig­rants, said Jen­nifer Korn, an RNC deputy polit­ic­al dir­ect­or.

“For the His­pan­ic com­munity,” she said, “Obama­care is the second ma­jor broken prom­ise.”

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