Hispanic Caucus Slams HHS For Silence On Cuts To Obamacare’s Latino Outreach

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Hispanic lawmakers are demanding answers from the Department of Health and Human Services after months of the agency stonewalling them on changes to the Affordable Care Act they fear will hurt the Latino population.

“There’s a fundamental lack of transparency and accountability from this administration,” Rep. Ruben Kihuen (D-NV) told TPM Wednesday. “You would think as members of Congress we would have some kind of communication, but even we are not getting answers. So imagine your average American out there looking for answers as to how to enroll in health insurance—it’d be impossible.”

This week, as the first full open enrollment period of the Trump administration kicks off, the Congressional Hispanic Caucus fired off a letter to HHS demanding a meeting right away. The letter is a follow-up to one the group sent over the summer demanding answers after a TPM investigation revealed HHS had severed partnerships with dozens of Latino organizations that worked with the government in past years to promote open enrollment. Since that August letter, HHS never met with the Hispanic lawmakers or answered their questions about the rollback of Latino outreach.

In their letter this week, the lawmakers emphasized just how much has been achieved for Latinos thanks to the previous administration’s targeted outreach efforts and partnerships on the ground, and expressed concern that the Trump administration has rolled back or completely ended that work.

“The ACA has resulted in historic coverage gains for the Latino community, providing over four million Latinos with access to health coverage, and lowering the overall Latino uninsured rate from one in four in 2013 to one in six today,” the lawmakers wrote.

To ensure those gains continue, they argue the agency must restore the tens of millions of dollars the Trump administration cut from the outreach and in-person assistance budget, ensure the Healthcare.gov website is fully operational during the open enrollment period, and fully enforce the civil rights protections in the Affordable Care Act.

Pointing out that Latinos remain the least-insured demographic in the U.S., with rates of un-insurance twice as high as white Americans, members of the caucus blasted HHS for rolling back federal outreach this year.

“It’s a way to gut and to sabotage the benefits people get from Obamacare,” Rep. Adriano Espaillat (D-NY). “If you want to point the finger and say Obamacare is imploding and failing, what you do is cross your arms and not do any outreach, and that’s exactly what’s happening. People will get really hurt by it.”

With the rollback of federal outreach this year, Latino organizations and Democrats in Congress are launching their own individual efforts.

Kihuen told TPM his office is sending out mailer to 7,000 households in his district and e-mails to 13,000 constituents—both in English and Spanish. They are also holding press conferences and other events in Nevada to promote awareness Obamacare is still the law of the land and low-cost health plans are available for the majority of Americans.

“We’re doing everything possible,” Kihuen said. “It’s unfortunate the Trump administration decided to cut the outreach funding, but now it’s up to us to go out into the community to educate people on how to get enrolled.”

Read the Hispanic Caucus’ full letter to HHS below:

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Alice Ollstein is a reporter at Talking Points Memo, covering national politics. She graduated from Oberlin College in 2010 and has been reporting in DC ever since, covering the Supreme Court, Congress and national elections for TV, radio, print, and online outlets. Her work has aired on Free Speech Radio News, All Things Considered, Channel News Asia, and Telesur, and her writing has been published by The Atlantic, La Opinión, and The Hill Rag. She was elected in 2016 as an at-large board member of the DC Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. Alice grew up in Santa Monica, California and began working for local newspapers in her early teens.
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