(WASHINGTON, DC – MARCH 27: People participate in a protest on the second day of oral arguments for the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act in front of the U.S. Supreme Court building on March 27, 2012 in Washington, DC. Today is the second of three days the high court has set aside to hear six hours of arguments over the constitutionality President Barack Obama’s Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images))

Opinion: Why Latinos do and should support health care reform

[This is an excerpt of a Latino Decisions blog, to read the full blog click here)

Latinos lack health insurance at the highest rates of any minority group.  In 2010, 30.7 percent of the Hispanic population was not covered by health insurance, compared to 11.7 percent of the non-Hispanic White population. The Affordable Care Act (ACA) is projected to expand insurance to 9 million Latinos.  Since insurance is the primary access barrier to health care for Latinos, the new health care reform bill is especially critical for the Latino community. The significance of the ACA has not been lost on Latinos, since a majority of Latinos feel that the health care reform bill should stand as law and NOT be repealed.

In fact, since Latino Decisions started collecting data in October 2011, on average 51 percent of Latinos have supported the ACA.  Also, the percentage of Latinos who want to repeal health care reform has consistently been low; around 29 percent (See Figure 1).  Thus, as the Supreme Court decides the fate of the health care reform bill, a majority of Latinos would like to see that the bill be left to stand as law.

Furthermore, a poll conducted by Latino Decisions in October 2011, found that overall Latinos are very supportive of specific provisions of the ACA.  For example, 85 percent and 75 percent of Latinos feel that we should keep tax credits for small businesses so they can give their employees insurance, and keep the law that closes the Medicare drug “doughnut hole” respectively.  Furthermore, 63 percent of Latinos feel that we should keep the law that will prohibit insurance companies from denying coverage because of a pre-existing condition, and 80 percent of Latinos feel that we should keep the law that provides financial help to low and moderate income Americans to help the purchase coverage (see Figure 2 Below)

Interestingly, however, when asked specifically about the mandate, a greater number of Latinos do oppose the mandate at 59 percent. However, as reflected in the tables below this is still lower than the general population, in which 66 percent opposed the mandate.  Since a majority of Latinos do support keeping the law that prohibits insurance companies denying people based on pre-existing conditions, perhaps it is not clear to Latinos that getting rid of the mandate might cause this provision to crumble as well.  Also, since the opposition to the ACA has been so focused on opposing the mandate, it could be that this media attention is driving these negative feelings toward the mandate not just for Latinos, but the general population as well (See Figures 3 and 4).

Overall, it is clear that Latinos support the ACA.  Over time they have felt the law should stand as law (Figure 1), with support of the law reaching a high in January of 2012, with 57 percent of Latinos feeling that the health care reform bill should stand as law.  Latinos also overwhelmingly support major provisions of the law, including support for low income Americans and access for people with pre-existing conditions.  In addition, compared to the general population, fewer Latinos feel that the mandate should be repealed.  The Affordable Care Act, in its entirety, is critical to the Latino population, and the significance of health care reform is clear to the Latino community.  As a population that disproportionately lacks health insurance, 9 million Latinos will gain insurance under the law due to the mandate and the expansion of Medicaid.  Moreover, health care costs are a major concern of Latinos.  A Latino Decisions poll found that 45 percent of Latinos favor health care reform because they feel costs are out of control, and there is a need to make health care more affordable. (Latino Decisions Oct. 2009).

Currently the Supreme Court is debating the constitutionality of the mandate.  However, much more is at stake here.  The mandate is critical to keeping health costs low, and expanding health insurance to Latinos. Given that Latinos, like most Americans, are not supportive of the mandate, there is a need to better educate the population on how vital the mandate is to the overall law. Latinos are currently the largest minority group in the U.S. and are continuing to grow. Their health disparities will only continue to impact our nation in a negative manner if they are ignored.  Thus, the Supreme Court is not just debating a constitutionality issue; they are debating the health of the nation.

Jillian Medeiros, Ph.D., is an Assistant Professor of Political Science at the University of New Mexico and a Fellow at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Center for Health Policy at UNM. She can be reached at: jamedeir@unm.edu

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