What do Latinos want? That seems to be the question increasingly asked by corporations, the media, elected officials and others. As Latino population numbers, political power and cultural influence grow, everyone seems to want to know what matters most to this community.
The truth is simpler than it seems. Latino families want what all Americans want: opportunity. They want a chance at a good job, access to a good education, a better life for their kids, and security for themselves and the people they love. And like everyone, they want protection from the unforeseen, like the No. 1 cause of personal bankruptcy in America: unpaid medical bills.
No American Dream is complete without health care coverage - without the ability to see a doctor when you need one, or to buy medication without going into debt. No family can sleep well at night when financial ruin is one diagnosis or one accident away.
Unfortunately, this is the reality for far too many Latino families. Right now, they are one of the most disproportionately uninsured populations in the country. In fact, of the 41.3 million eligible uninsured in our country, 10.2 million of them, or 1 in 4, are Latino. These are hardworking Americans living every day without any safety net.
It's even more troubling when you consider that Latinos, like other racial and ethnic minorities, suffer from certain illnesses at higher levels than white Americans. Risk factors that lead to heart disease are more common, and so are asthma, diabetes and cervical cancer. The instability of being uninsured isn't just toxic for Latino families; it threatens their workplaces, their communities and their local economies.
Thankfully, it's a new day in health care.
Because of the Affordable Care Act, insurance companies can no longer turn someone away because of previous illnesses or health issues and annual or lifetime caps are a thing of the past. Those with insurance can get preventive care, like cancer screenings and flu shots, without paying out-of-pocket costs. Over the last few years, Americans have already received more than $1.5 billion in rebates from insurance companies who spent too much on administrative costs, CEO salaries or advertising. And there is no longer a cost distinction between Latinos and Latinas: being a woman is no longer a pre-existing condition.
Most importantly, insurance is finally going to be affordable. Eight out of 10 uninsured Latinos may be able to receive free coverage or lower premiums. For example, a 27-year-old earning $25,000 could pay as little as $89 if she's living in Houston, or $87 a month in Miami.
Even more Latinos would see a benefit if states like Texas and Florida -- the two states with the greatest percentage of uninsured Americans -- stopped refusing to expand Medicaid. If every state took advantage of the Affordable Care Act's provision to broaden Medicaid coverage -- at no cost to the state for three years -- 95 percent of uninsured Latinos could qualify for lowered payments.
If you are uninsured, don't gamble with your health or your finances. Join the 5 million Americans who have already found affordable coverage on the Health Insurance Marketplace at Healthcare.gov, or CuidadoDeSalud.gov if you prefer Spanish. There, you can make side-by-side comparisons of easy-to-understand plans, and even window shop in English or Spanish before applying. The call center, at 1-800-318-2596 (TTY available at 1-855-889-4325), offers 24-hour assistance in both languages as well. The open enrollment deadline is March 31, so there isn't much time left!
If you come from a mixed-status family, you should know that it's safe to come forward and apply. No sign-up information will used for immigration enforcement. And if you're already insured, help us spread the word. As President Obama urged, tell your familia, amigos y vecinos. No one can be a better advocate for comprehensive, affordable coverage than the people who have experienced the benefits -- and the peace of mind -- first hand.
Across the country, Latinos and Americans of all backgrounds are finding out that health insurance isn't just possible, it's affordable. They are realizing that the health security they want and need is a few clicks away. We hope you'll join them.
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