WASHINGTON – Like other HealthCare.gov customers, immigrants are relieved that the government's health insurance website is working fairly well this year. They're baffled, though, by what looks like an obvious lapse: There is no clear way to upload a copy of their green card, the government identification document that shows they are legal U.S. residents and therefore entitled to benefits under President Barack Obama's health care law.
"It doesn't list the green card as an option to upload," said Elizabeth Colvin of Foundation Communities, an Austin, Texas, group that serves low-income people, including many immigrants. There's a way to upload copies of other types of documentation, Colvin said, but not green cards.
"The limited list of documents is confusing people and needs to be updated to include all accepted documents to verify identity," she added.
Administration spokesman Aaron Albright said a fix was in the works. "We are working to make it clear that consumers with any type of immigration issue can upload any form that is requested, including a copy of their green card," he said.
Reaching immigrants, particularly Hispanics and Asians, is a priority as the administration seeks to increase the number of people signed up for subsidized private health insurance through federal and state exchanges. Latinos are the largest pool of immigrant applicants, and many hesitated to sign up last year.
A total of about 7 million people are now enrolled, and Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia M. Burwell has set a target of 9.1 million for 2015. Though that would represent a 30 percent enrollment increase, it's well below the 13 million that the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office had forecast for 2015. The markets are for people who don't have access to coverage on the job.
Compared with last year's website dysfunction, the green card glitch is just an irritant, something that requires extra effort from certain applicants and that may cause additional anxiety.
"Last year, people were getting kicked out; the system was constantly being shut down," said Colvin. "We welcome the changes and improvements."
Immigrants can enter their green card number on the website. But what happens next is creating confusion.
Some applicants say they have been told by the HealthCare.gov call center to mail in copies of their green cards. But that's a worry, since there were widespread complaints this year that copies of immigration documents sent in the mail got lost.
In some cases, people are uploading green cards anyway under website labels for other types of documentation, and hoping the government will notice.
It's not the only way that immigrants will have to jump through hoops to get covered.
HealthCare.gov's new, simpler online application cut 76 screens down to 16 for most consumers. But it can't be used by legal immigrants and naturalized U.S. citizens because of extra steps required for verification.
While immigrants living in the country illegally cannot get coverage under the law, millions who are lawfully present are entitled to benefits, as well as people who were born overseas and later became U.S. citizens.
About half of Latino adults were born abroad, according to research from the Pew Hispanic Center. Of those who have become U.S. citizens, 21 percent lack health insurance. That's well above the 15 percent uninsured rate among naturalized U.S. citizens who are not of Hispanic origin. Latinos are also more likely to be married to an immigrant.
Burwell has been traveling this week to promote the new sign-up period, including stops in two immigrant-rich states, Florida and Texas, which are among the 37 served by the federal website. She also tweeted that Spanish-speaking representatives at HealthCare.gov's call center got 20,000 calls over the weekend.
Sign-up season runs through Feb. 15.