Like millions of Americans, last night I stayed up late watching election returns. I was ecstatic that Latino voters turned out for President Obama. For me, though, his victory felt political and personal. Political, because I support Obama’s policies and believe he was the best man for the job
Obama’s re-election resonates with me on the personal level because of one of my cousins. My cousin is young and strong and has a terrific work ethic. Unfortunately, he also has a pre-existing medical condition. It does not prevent him from working. But it has made obtaining health insurance an ongoing struggle. Even when he has had coverage through work, worrying about his insurance plan has been a source of stress – which can make his condition worse.
For my cousin, President Obama’s re-election is life changing. The Affordable Care Act will now be fully implemented, and my cousin will be able to obtain the coverage he needs. He won’t have to turn down freelance jobs that don’t offer health benefits. He won’t have to worry about being denied insurance if he changes jobs. And he won’t have to worry about financial caps on his existing coverage.
The fact is, while immigration has dominated much of the discussion about Latino voters in 2012, health care remains a tremendous issue for our community. According to the National Council of La Raza, one out of three uninsured persons is Hispanic. Hispanics are nearly three times more likely than whites to be uninsured. And compared to other demographics, Latinos are the least likely to obtain insurance through their employer.
What’s more, Latinos have significant health needs that are not being met. Statistics from the Department of Health and Human Services show that we suffer from high rates of obesity, asthma, AIDS/HIV, and heart disease. These are chronic, long-term conditions that only worsen if not treated.
Latinos know how critical health care is to our community. Polling from the Pew Center found that 50 percent of Latino registered voters said health care was “extremely important” to them. Health care placed third on Pew’s ranking of top issues, ahead of immigration. In a survey by Gallup, the health care issue placed first among Latinos.
Somehow, the Romney campaign did not recognize this reality. A cornerstone of Governor Romney’s message was that government-sponsored health care was a terrible idea. He vowed to repeal “Obamacare” on Day One. Yet how can one make the argument that government health insurance is bad – when the alternative is no insurance? Answer: You can’t. No wonder Hispanics supported Obama by such large margins; our future is closely tied to his.
Ironically, the health care plan that Romney devised for Massachusetts is credited with improving access to care among Hispanics. One researcher reported that Latinos fared better under “Romneycare” than any other group.
Still, Romney got it wrong when he posited that minorities and members of the “47 percent” were looking for a handout from the government. Nothing could be further from the truth. We want to work and contribute to society, but we can only do so if we are healthy. Consider that when people are uninsured and get sick, they wind up in the ER – and often taxpayers end paying for the cost of their treatment. Under the Affordable Care Act, Latinos and other Americans can get the coverage they need, saving others the burden of paying their way.
I know I’m not alone in considering the impact of the Affordable Care Act upon my family and friends. One lesson from the immigration debate is that certain issues register with Latinos both as policy and on a personal level. After all, we are accustomed to thinking about our well-being along with that of our extended family.
I am optimistic that our President can meet the tremendous challenges that lie ahead of him. I am proud of Hispanics for showing up at the polls in record numbers. And I feel tremendous relief at knowing that my cousin now has a better shot at living the long and healthy life he deserves.
Raul A. Reyes is an attorney and member of the USA Today Board of Contributors.