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Hispanics' Obamacare headache [Commentary]

Much like its English language counterpart, the White House's Spanish-language health care website, CuidadoDeSalud.gov, has been filled with technical issues, mistranslations and links to English-only pages and forms since its launch.

It's a laughing stock, but the joke is on Hispanics and Latinos like myself. Beyond the faulty launch of the federal website, the Affordable Care Act penalizes the Hispanic-American community in Maryland in several serious ways. The end result that a law that was supposed to help us actually makes affordable and quality health care even harder to find.

One issue that has received too little attention is how Obamacare affects patient choice and doctor-patient relationships. These are major issues for Hispanic-Americans. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, we're the least likely demographic to seek out medical attention. A full 42 percent of Hispanics don't visit the doctor even once a year. When we do go to see a doctor, we're very picky. The National Hispanic Medical Association reports that Hispanics prefer doctors who "appreciate [our] culture and understand [our] families' dynamics and [our] traditions."

Unfortunately, our options are limited by the fact that only 5 percent of doctors are Hispanic (even though we're over 8 percent of Maryland's population). Yet that's where Obamacare kicks in and makes things worse. Because the law imposes so many expensive mandates and regulations on health insurance, the most affordable health care plans no longer include the large networks that give us the most choice.

For Hispanics, this limits our already-strained access to the doctors we want and worsens our culture's chronic doctor shortages.

But this isn't even the worst of the Affordable Care Act's problems. Despite what we were promised, the Affordable Care Act is surprisingly unaffordable.

Obamacare will simply be too expensive for many Hispanics. The problem for us stems from the law's over-reliance on the young to enter the health insurance market and, effectively, subsidize older, sicker populations. This directly affects the Hispanic-American community because we are significantly younger than the average American. In fact, our median age is 27 — the age that's most severely harmed by the Affordable Care Act's premium increases.

This is either an unfortunate coincidence or a cruel joke. Either way, it couldn't be worse for Hispanics' financial health. An analysis by Forbes concluded that the average 27-year-old's health care premium has spiked by 40 percent for men and 6 percent for women in Maryland since Obamacare took effect.

These skyrocketing prices are bad news for the 470,000 Hispanics and Latinos who call Maryland home. Many of us will struggle to find the cash to pay much more than we already do, even after subsidies. Thanks to the individual mandate, we're stuck between a rock and a hard place: We can either pony up the cash or pay a penalty that will total nearly $700 for individuals and over $2,000 for families.

This litany of problems makes it seem like Hispanic-Americans' needs weren't taken into account by the Affordable Care Act's architects. Surely we deserved better. We have the highest uninsured rate in the nation, at just under 30 percent, and yet Obamacare gives us little reason to join its ranks.

Then again, it would be hard to sign up for Obamacare online even if we wanted to. The broken website makes a mockery of the Spanish language — and that's only the latest of Obamacare's broken promises to our community.

Daniel Garza is the executive director of the LIBRE Initiative, a Texas-based grassroots organization that advances the principles of economic freedom in the Hispanic-American community. His email is libregarza@gmail.com.

To respond to this commentary, send an email to talkback@baltimoresun.com. Please include your name and contact information.

Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun
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