Latino enrollment key to healthcare reform success

While the Affordable Care Act has provided 16.4 million Americans with health insurance, one demographic continues to face challenges when it comes to accessing care. Latinos are the largest ethnic minority group in the country, but they are also the most underserved by both insurers and providers, according to a study in the Annual Review of Public Health.

The uphill battle for Latinos to gain coverage likely will continue. "As the Latino population continues to grow, it should be a national health policy priority to improve their access to care," Alex Ortega, a professor of public health at the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health and author of the study, told UC Health.

Ortega and his colleagues identified four key areas that, if improved upon, could help bolster Latino enrollment. Here are two of the four areas they discussed:

Insuring undocumented residents

The ACA does not allow the nearly 12 million undocumented immigrants living in the U.S. to participate in either the state exchanges or states' Medicaid programs. Last November's executive order on immigration reform also stopped short of offering coverage to undocumented immigrants, FierceHealthPayer previously reported.

As Ortega pointed out, this creates issues for local healthcare and public health systems.

For example, under federal law, anyone is entitled to receive treatment at emergency rooms regardless of citizenship status. The ACA's exclusion of undocumented residents discourages them from seeking primary care treatment and instead leads them to visit the costly emergency rooms. This, in turn, drives up premiums for those who are insured. Insuring undocumented immigrants could minimize cost-related issues, as patients would be able to seek primary care in lieu of emergency care, the study suggested.

Latinos in non-Medicaid expansion states

States that chose to not expand Medicaid negatively impact Latino residents who would otherwise qualify for Medicaid benefits, Ortega noted.

"It's estimated that if every state participated in the Medicaid expansion, nearly all uninsured Latinos would be covered except those barred by current law--the undocumented and those who have been in the U.S. less than five years," Ortega said.

The study echoed prior research on the Latino demographic. Because Latinos are one of the youngest and fastest-growing populations in the country, their participation in Medicaid expansion is critical for national efforts to cover millions of uninsured Americans, FierceHealthcare previously reported.

For more:
- here's the study's abstract (subscription required for full text)
- read the UC Health piece