As Senate Debates Ending Obamacare, Latino Lives Hang in the Balance

As the president of an organization entrusted with serving a vibrant community, facts guide my leadership. As I think about the policies that we support at Hispanic Federation, I know three things: research matters, data matters and results matter. When I look at the facts surrounding the impact of the Affordable Care Act on the Latino communities of the United States, one thing is clear: For Latinos, there has been no more important piece of legislation in the last thirty years than the ACA. Punto.

When President Barack Obama signed the ACA into law in 2010 he enacted a piece of legislation that fundamentally changed and improved the lives of millions of Latinos throughout the United States. Families that had been priced out of health insurance could now afford coverage. Latinos denied coverage because of preexisting conditions, now could get the care they needed. Latinas who couldn’t afford important prenatal care, could now have a safe and successful pregnancy and, just as important, have contraception fully covered under preventative care.

For a community besieged by high rates of chronic diseases such as diabetes, asthma, and low birth weight, the ACA has been, quite literally, a lifesaver. Between the expansion of Medicaid and the creation of affordable health insurance plans, no single group in the United States has been helped more by the ACA than Latinos.

It is for this reason that attempts by the White House and Republicans in Congress to “repeal and replace” Obamacare might be the gravest threat posed to Latino communities right now. Just last week, we learned the Republican-passed replacement plan, the American Health Care Act would actually leave 23 million more people uninsured in 2026. It would hit the poor and elderly especially hard, increasing premiums between 700-800 percent for some low-income seniors who have Obamacare coverage today. What is particularly galling is the legislation’s sleight of hand when it comes to mandating coverage of consumers with pre-existing conditions. While a late amendment to the bill seemingly protected the pre-existing provisions of the ACA, as the CBO analysis unequivocally shows, people with medical conditions would be forced to pay sky-high premiums or face losing coverage altogether.

What is more troubling is the White House and Republicans launching a crusade against a program that, warts and all, has managed to improve health indicators for most Americans. A program of the size and complexity of the ACA was bound to have shortcomings that required additional legislation. But driven by fear and callousness, the Republicans have proposed legislation that cripples the program. What’s more, if recent reports are correct, the White House is contemplating plans to purposefully scuttle the ACA by eliminating subsidies for care that make plans affordable and keep insurance companies in the program.  Without these subsidies, insurance companies are bound to abandon the ACA leaving tens of millions of Americans without access to affordable insurance and, by extension, without access to care.  And many of those Americans are Latinos.

Earlier this year, the Commonwealth Fund noted that thanks to the ACA, the rate of uninsured Latinos had dropped more than any other ethnic group of Americans. In 2010, 43.2 percent of working-age adult Latinos were uninsured.  By 2016, that percentage had dropped to 24.8. Despite this remarkable shift, the Latino uninsured rate was still disproportionately high.  In other words, while the ACA had made insurance more accessible for Latinos, there was a need to double our efforts to increase coverage for millions of more Latino families. The take-home, as it were, is that we needed more of the ACA, not less of it.

The ACHA bill is now in the hands of a deeply divided and partisan Senate. Already, organizations in virtually every sector of the health care community have raised alarm bells about the many shortcomings of this bill. The Hispanic Federation shares these concerns. We know firsthand what the ACA has meant to our community. We know it has saved lives and improved the health of millions. Repealing and replacing the ACA is a partisan exercise built on ideology — not facts. We know that facts aren’t much in favor in Washington, D.C., these days but we still believe in them and plan to share them with every legislator and voter we can.


José Calderón is president of the Hispanic Federation, the nation’s premier Latino nonprofit membership organization.

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