After two election cycles of Democrats successfully marketing Obamacare to Hispanic voters, the health care law's rocky start could turn into a bargaining chip for Republicans.
Hispanic adults have supported President Obama's Affordable Care Act at a rate twice that of whites. More than 10 million Hispanics—roughly one-fourth of the total uninsured population—stand to benefit from the law. An outsize proportion of the eligible Hispanics are the healthy millennials who could make or break universal health care.
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But glitches on the enrollment site are blocking Hispanics (and everyone else) from signing up for subsidized insurance, while the Spanish-language website has been delayed until further notice. In a surprising gaffe by an administration that has put a premium on Hispanic outreach, the site geared toward Hispanics featured pictures of Asian-Americans at one point.
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Add to that news of hundreds of thousands of people in states with large Hispanic populations receiving cancellation notices from insurers and Republicans see an avenue to court one of the most sought-after groups of voters in America.
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"This is an opening for Republicans because Latino optimism about expanding health care is starting to wane like the rest of the population," said pollster Gabriel Sanchez, an associate professor of political science at the University of New Mexico. "The Republican strategy of hammering at the health care law could work among Latinos."
Indeed, in the first publicly released survey analyzing Obamacare's impact on Hispanics since the launch, 34 percent said health care costs will get worse under the law. The Latino Decisions poll of 300 Hispanic adults in Colorado from Oct. 14 to 18 also showed slight downturns in views of the law's impact on the quality of health care and the ability of people to get or keep insurance.
Influencing those negative views is Spanish-language media, which frequently sympathizes with the administration's goal of immigration reform but has been documenting the health care law's troubled rollout. Univision, for example, interviewed a Brooklyn bakery owner whose phone number was mistakenly listed as a contact for ACA enrollment.
A leading Hispanic Republican critic of the health care law and a potential presidential contender in 2016, Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, has seized on the delay of the Spanish-language website.
"Hispanics have among the highest uninsured rates in the nation. Yet despite hundreds of millions of dollars devoted to a Spanish-language propaganda campaign, the Spanish-language Obamacare website hasn't even been launched," Rubio said in a recent statement. "It's not fair to punish anyone for not buying Obamacare when the website they are supposed to buy it on doesn't work."
Across the country, Hispanic groups have launched a massive outreach program to beat back widespread confusion about the law. That's especially critical while the Spanish-language website is down, said state Rep. Darren Soto, who represents a Hispanic-heavy district near Orlando that overwhelmingly favored Obama.
"The web site needs to be fixed sooner rather than later," Soto warned. "The outreach is critical because so many people aren't watching the news or on the Internet but you can reach them at a Puerto-Rican parade or health care fair."
In Colorado, the advocacy appears to be making a difference. The Latino Decisions poll found that 54 percent said they were very or somewhat informed about the new health care law. Less than half, 43 percent, were unable to name any of its new policies.
Democratic consultants dismiss the argument that Republicans might gain from the health law's weak rollout, pointing to the GOP-led House's resistance to immigration reform. "Republicans have less than zero credibility with Latinos," said Democratic consultant Maria Cardona, who specializes in the Hispanic vote. "As long as they get the website fixed, the stature of the Democratic Party in the Latino community will be fine."
Hispanics overwhelmingly rejected Republican nominee Mitt Romney, with more than one out of seven favoring Obama. Romney blamed Obama's friendly immigration policy and the health care law. "With Hispanic voters, free health care was a big plus," Romney said last November.
But as the Republican National Committee ramps up its Hispanic outreach, Obamacare's problems will be a theme. Along with fumbling the rollout of the health care law, Obama failed to make good on his vow to pass immigration reform in his first year in office and has deported a record number of illegal immigrants, said Jennifer Korn, an RNC deputy political director.
"For the Hispanic community," she said, "Obamacare is the second major broken promise."
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