“There is obvious interest on behalf of the Latino community; once people learn about the ACA, that is when their interest piques,” says Mayra E. Alvarez, associate director of the Office of Minority Health at HHS.  

She says the results of the survey are not new. “We’ve known that the Latino community prefers to get information from trusted sources – in-person assistance and Spanish language media. That’s why we have partnerships with local organizations that have people on the ground. It is these folks that we have engaged to connect the Latino community to the marketplace.” Additionally, the Spanish-language healthcare.gov website has a toll-free number to call for in-person assistance for enrolling.

But those efforts are not enough, says Falcón. “The frustrating thing is we are going about [getting people enrolled] the wrong way right now. We had many years of doing it the right way,” he says, noting that in-person assistance is what made a difference in enrolling participants during two other big health initiatives, Medicare part D and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP).

Lack of participation in an insurance plan not only affects individuals who may need health care coverage, but it could be a factor in the success of the ACA. Falcón says that for the ACA to succeed, uninsured Hispanics are an important demographic to capture. “I certainly think, just from a financial standpoint, a large part of the success of the ACA will be if uninsured Hispanics enroll. They are the largest group – and youngest and healthiest. I think they [HHS] understand it is an important group to reach.”

Alvarez agrees that the Hispanic community is “incredibly important” to reach – given that 1 out of 4 eligible, uninsured Americans is Hispanic. “We know that to have a successful health insurance marketplace we need to have a good mix of people in order to make the risk pool work – young and old, sick and healthy,” says Alvarez. “Given that  [Latinos] are disproportionately younger [than other groups], it is important to make sure this population is enrolled.”

But she says the issue goes beyond financial calculations. “It is important to consider the growing population of Latinos in this country,” says Alvarez.  She says health insurance is essential to the well-being of any community. “An investment in the well-being of the Latino community is an investment in the well-being of our country. That security, that peace of mind [that comes with having health insurance], it is important that we extend that to every eligible American.”

Noting that certain features on the Spanish-language healthcare.gov website weren’t operational until recently, Falcón is calling on HHS secretary Kathleen Sebelius to extend the deadline. “The Secretary does have authority to declare a special enrollment period – and given the difficulty of enrollment, we think that it should be done.” If that happens, he also hopes “special funds can be activated” to pay for more in-person assistance.

According to Falcón, the NAHH is fielding about 4,000 calls per month on its bilingual Su Familia helpline – 866/783-2645 – and has extra staff to help during the enrollment period.

Additionally, the Arthritis Foundation has a marketplace toolkit in Spanish and in English to help people navigate the ACA.