Ignoring Latino Community May Have Cost Kathleen Sebelius Her Job

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Hispanics were supposed to be one of the groups in the country who benefited the most from the Affordable Care Act (ACA). But a few days after Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius announced her resignation, Latinos working on the ground to help uninsured members of the community sign up for Obamacare say that they are not shocked about her announcement last Thursday.

“It’s not a surprise she is no longer Secretary,” Jane Delgado, president of the nonpartisan advocacy network National Alliance for Hispanic Health, told Fox News Latino. “We had told the Department [of Health and Human Services] that what was most needed before enrollment was to go out to the community and educate them about insurance."

Delgado, whose organization’s Obamacare help line spoke to more than 1,100 people on the March 31st deadline alone, went on to say, “I think a lot of [the rollout] was well intentioned but not well delivered.”

For more than two months, the healthcare.gov site was plagued with technical problems that left many Americans frustrated and the Obama administration embarrassed. But, critics say, the failures were even more disastrous in how the law was rolled out for Latinos. Before Obamacare, about one-third of Hispanics in the U.S. were uninsured, a far higher percentage than either whites or African-Americans. Ironically, the community with the most to gain from the law had to deal with the biggest delays and the biggest glitches and sign-up problems.

Latino advocates point to a shortage of in-person navigators and translators to guide consumers, as well as a resistance in mixed-status families – in which at least one person is undocumented – to giving out immigration status information to an administration that has deported nearly 2 million people. Numerous federal officials tried to assure people that the information collected from the health exchanges won’t be shared with immigration services, but skepticism remained high.

“The reality of what’s happening on the ground undercuts the message they are trying to send,” said Alvaro Huerta, staff attorney at the National Immigration Law Center. “The community sees the deportation machine that the administration has implemented and they say, ‘Why should I trust giving information to the federal government when I hear over and over again that people are being deported at record numbers?’”

Then there were the technical glitches. The Obama administration launched the Spanish language version of healthcare.gov, CuidadoDeSalud.gov, three months late, in December, but the site wasn’t fully functional until February. Potential enrollees experienced glitches, mistranslations and malfunctions on the site.

On NBC’s “Meet the Press” on Sunday, Sebelius called the administration’s timeline for having ready the health care law’s online sign-up system “flat-out wrong” and said the early months of the Obamacare rollout were “a pretty dismal time” and a low point of her five-year tenure, even as she defended the law’s impact and said millions of Americans now have access to health care because of it.

“They overestimated the ease in which people would understand how the health care system works when they are coming from countries that have different systems, and they underestimated the resources to get information to the Latino community,” Huerta explained to FNL.

He said while the administration has made vast improvements to the Spanish-language site, there’s a need for more in-person and telephone translators. Oftentimes, people have to call back multiple times to get through the application process, and that can be frustrating, Huerta said.

Delgado told FNL that she believes the administration, despite warnings and advice from her and other Latino advocates about the need for a more hands-on approach to reaching out to people in the Latino community, relied too heavily on a website to be the cure to America’s health care ills.

“Technology is very glitzy,” Delgado said. “The thought was the website was going to make everything simple.”  When in reality, she said, “The love of technology blinded people to what were the possibilities … We forget that in order to be successful you have to be high-tech and high touch.”

Recent polls show that Hispanics, who once favored Obamacare by a nearly 2-to-1 margin, are growing sour on the healthcare law. A Pew Research Center Poll showed Hispanics are now split evenly on whether they approve of the ACA. A Kaiser Family Foundation poll shows 46 percent of Latinos have a favorable view of Obamacare, down from 56 percent in September.

“I don’t think we can blame it on one person,” Huerta said. “But we had given them reminders about language and immigration concerns and I’m not sure that was prioritized. I think there was a lot more that could have been done to prepare for it.”

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