The Obama administration took to the Spanish-language airwaves Wednesday morning as part of a big push to get Latinos to apply for Obamacare. In appearances on cable TV channels Telemundo and Univision, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and Director of Public Health Mayra Alvarez encouraged viewers to enroll in the insurance marketplaces that states are starting up in October. They touted a new government website in Spanish, cuidadodesalud.gov, which steers people to sign up.
President Obama owes his reelection in part to Hispanics; as Kaiser Health News observes, they’ll also be critical to his legacy on health care. Obamacare mandates that people who don’t have insurance enroll in state-run marketplaces, known as exchanges, or pay a penalty. For health plans offered through the marketplaces to be affordable, the administration needs young and healthy people to enroll—their premiums will help subsidize care for the sick. Hispanics are an ideal target: The median age for an Hispanic in the U.S. is 27.6 years old, compared with 42.3 years old for whites. Hispanics account for 17 percent of the U.S. population—but make up a full third of the uninsured.
Critics of the law have cast it as a freebie for minorities. After the election, Mitt Romney pronounced that he’d lost because Obama gave “gifts” to special interest groups, including Hispanics. Referring to Obamacare, Romney said: “You can imagine for somebody making $25,000 or $30,000 or $35,000 a year, being told you’re now going to get free health care, particularly if you don’t have it, getting free health care worth, what, $10,000 per family, in perpetuity, I mean, this is huge,” he said. “Likewise with Hispanic voters, free health care was a big plus.”
Romney was right that some very poor Hispanics will get free health care under Obamacare, because the law expands Medicaid in some states. Yet it’s possible that all kinds of Americans will actually get a gift, as it were, from Hispanics. If the Obama administration’s PR campaign targeting them is successful, and they enroll en masse, Hispanics could end up subsidizing health care for many other people.