By ALEX WAYNE and LISA LERER
Bloomberg News
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June 08. 2013 7:45PM

Obama targets Hispanics in push for exchange enrollees

WASHINGTON - The Affordable Care Act's initial success next year depends on President Barack Obama's ability to coax at least 2.6 million people who are young and healthy to sign up for health insurance. Hispanics may be the key.

About one-third of the young and healthy people the government wants to enroll in new health exchanges live in California, Texas and Florida, according to the Obama administration. In California for a meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping, Obama used a stop in San Jose Friday to encourage the uninsured to enroll in the plan.

"We've got to make sure everyone that needs health care can get it and we've got to do it the most efficient way," the President said standing alongside the leaders of a partnership with Spanish-language television created to encourage enrollment in government-run health exchanges. "Quality care is not something that should be a privilege. It should be a right."

About 7 million people next year will enroll in private plans offered through state exchanges set up as part of the 2010 health-care overhaul, a senior Obama administration official told reporters Thursday. Almost 40 percent of those people need to be young, healthy adults to balance the cost of insuring older people at higher risk of illness, said the official, who asked not to be identified in advance of the President's speech.

"The assumption is that once we make insurance accessible, which it isn't right now, people who are sick and need insurance the most will be first in the door, understandably," Larry Levitt, a senior vice president at the Kaiser Family Foundation research group in Menlo Park, Calif., said by telephone.

The price of plans available in the exchanges will guide consumer decisions on whether to buy through the new marketplaces, Levitt said. California's exchange said May 23 that rates for a 40-year-old starting in October will be as low as $219 a month, on average. Federal subsidies will reduce the premium to as little as zero for people with incomes close to the poverty level.

"About 2.6 million Californians - nearly half of whom are Latinos - will qualify for tax credits that will in some cases lower their premiums a significant amount," Obama said. "You can listen to a bunch of political talk out there, negative ads and fear-mongering geared toward the next election, or alternatively you can actually look at what's happening in states like California right now."

California officials created a collaboration with Spanish- language television and the California Endowment health-care foundation to specifically target Hispanic enrollees. About 38 percent of California's population was listed as of Hispanic or Latino origin in 2011 Census Bureau data. Texas has a similar proportion, while Florida's is about 23 percent.

Before people can sign up for the plans, they have to know what options are available, and administration officials have said they view outreach to the uninsured as crucial for the success of the exchanges, which are scheduled to open Oct. 1 for plans that take effect Jan. 1.

At least 25 million people who lack health insurance are expected to gain coverage by 2023 because of the Affordable Care Act, according to the Congressional Budget Office. The law allows states to expand Medicaid, the government-run health program for the poor, to cover anyone earning close to poverty wages. For higher-income people who don't get coverage through their jobs, the law sets up government-run marketplaces to sell private insurance policies, in many cases with subsidies for monthly premiums and cost-sharing.

"There are going to be some hiccups," Obama said. "But no matter what, every single consumer will be covered by the new benefits and protections under this law permanently."

The administration estimates that about 10.2 million Hispanics nationwide will be eligible to gain coverage through the exchanges.

While California is helping with the rollout of the Affordable Care Act, Republican governors and legislatures in Texas and Florida oppose the law and aren't cooperating.

Obama plans to use federal health clinics in those states that will hire people who will help patients enroll in new health plans.

The President arrived in California yesterday for fundraisers in Palo Alto and the Portola Valley to benefit Democratic candidates. Later today, he'll travel to Santa Monica to attend a fundraising event at the home of Peter Chernin, a former News Corp. president, officials said.


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