Since today is the last day of National Hispanic Heritage Month, we are celebrating the gains in health care coverage for Latinos since the Affordable Care Act (ACA) went into effect. According to a new report by the Commonwealth Institute, the uninsurance rate for Latinos, the racial and ethnic group that has had the least health care coverage, dropped from 36 to 23 percent. While we celebrate this progress, we also acknowledge the disproportionate impact of the Medicaid coverage gap on Latinos. Despite the impressive gains in coverage for Latinos nationally since the ACA went into effect, the uninsurance rate of Latinos has remained statistically unchanged in states that have not yet accepted federal dollars to raise their Medicaid eligibility levels.

The ACA’s new affordable health coverage options through Medicaid and the health insurance Marketplaces are two major cornerstones to closing the gap on the uninsured Latino population. Here are highlights from this report:

  • Latinos with incomes below 138% of the Federal Poverty Level (FPL) had the greatest uninsured rate decline of all groups, from 35% to 17%
  • Latinos were more likely than whites to find and enroll in an affordable plan on the marketplace
  • Most Latinos who enrolled in the marketplace were previously uninsured 
  • California, which has the largest Latino population, saw half of previously uninsured Latinos gain coverage through expanded coverage options

These successes are true strides in improving access to coverage and care for Latinos. However, these gains were only available in the 25 states, along with the District of Columbia, that accepted the federal dollars to provide coverage to individuals with incomes below 138% FPL. For states that did not accept federal funds to raise their Medicaid eligibility levels, the 33% uninsured rate among Latinos remains statistically static. We still have work to do.

The following graph from the report illustrates the gains in health care coverage for Latinos as well as the differences between states with and without a coverage gap.

<p>Policymakers in non-expansion states have an opportunity to put health care coverage within reach of the 22% uninsured (or 1.3 million) Latino adults who currently fall into the coverage gap. These states can accept federal funding to close the gap anytime. According to a <a href=Robert Wood Johnson Foundation report, doing so will yield great strides in reducing health disparities for Latinos and other communities of color.

Looking ahead, besides offering expanded health care options, the report illustrates other critical steps needed to lower the insurance rate for Latinos:

  • Ensuring marketplace website functionality and effective Spanish translation
  • Reaching the remaining uninsured, young and poor through effective outreach, enrollment and education
  • Raising awareness of the marketplaces among Latinos, especially those who primarily speak Spanish

In meeting these goals, we are hopeful that the coming enrollment period will yield even more reasons to celebrate at next year’s National Hispanic Heritage Month.

-Amber Ma, Policy Analyst