Take Note, GOP: Affordable Health Care Important to Latino Voters

You've read these headlines and their nearly identical variations time and time again: "The House has voted 54 times in four years on Obamacare," to undo, revamp, or tweak the law. "House Votes to Repeal Obamacare, Again."

To no one's surprise, the Republicans are at it again. This week Republicans in Congress announced a budget deal that takes dead aim at the Affordable Care Act (ACA). If nothing else, the Republican Party has made one thing clear: They hate the ACA, and they are obsessed with killing this sweeping healthcare-reform law.

In 2016 motivating Latinos to vote will be a major initiative of every political campaign. Finding the right issues is always the key to turning out voters. For the Democrats health care should be at the top of their messaging strategy. Why? Because, unfortunately for the Republicans, Latino voters don't hate the ACA. In fact, having access to affordable healthcare coverage is vital for Latino working families, and they'll get out and vote to make sure they don't lose their health care. Millions of Latinos, in fact, now have healthcare coverage because of President Obama's Affordable Care Act.

Before the ACA was enacted in 2010, over 30 percent of the country's uninsured individuals were Latinos. Since the implementation of the ACA, 4.2 million previously uninsured Latinos have obtained healthcare coverage. That can only be characterized as a significant policy accomplishment and a boon for Latino families.

For Latinos the Affordable Care Act is a big deal. Latinos are far more likely than whites to suffer from serious conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, and certain cancers. The ACA has made it illegal for insurance companies to deny coverage or charge ruinous rates because of "preexisting conditions," thereby protecting millions of Latinos with chronic disease or less-than-spotless medical histories from losing or being locked out of health insurance. The ACA has also improved the quality of coverage, providing 8.8 million Latinos with privateinsurance access to preventive care services at no additional charge. Obamacare, the numbers show, is working.

Republicans have demonstrated without a doubt that they intend to kill the ACA. Yet they offer no alternative. The Republicans would rather go back to the days when millions of Americans were uninsured, when even those who had health insurance often paid exorbitant premiums for coverage, saddled with arbitrary annual and lifetime limits, when disparities in coverage were greater than they are today. So far we've seen only more of the same from the right wing. For example, the astroturf LIBRE Initiative, funded by the ultraconservative, billionaire Koch brothers, campaigns against the Affordable Care Act, absurdly claiming that the ACA is disproportionately imposing healthcare costs onto the Latino community.

Health care is a motivating issue for Latino voters -- but it will only translate into Democratic gains if the Democrats handle it correctly and encourage Latinos to vote. In the 2014 midterm elections, Latino voters cared about health care more than any other issue save for jobs and the economy. Political observers often talk about immigration as a "gateway" issue through which parties can make or break their relationships with Latino voters, and this is true. Immigration reform matters to Latino voters, and Republicans have alienated Latinos with xenophobic immigration-policy proposals. That said, health care might be the key gateway issue this next time around. In 2014, and in other elections going back decades, health care has been at the forefront of the Hispanic electorate's concerns.

2016 is rapidly approaching, and the GOP -- firmly in control of the House and Senate -- is gearing up its political machine to attempt to retake the White House. Whoever Republicans choose to nominate as their presidential candidate, they have another important choice to make: whether they will admit that the ACA helps Latino families or continue to furiously assault "Obamacare." This is a crucial decision: Recent polling shows that 60 percent of Latinos look favorably on the ACA.

How Republicans decide to approach healthcare policy will be a critical factor in determining their fate with Latino voters -- a voting bloc that grew by 89 percent between 2000 and 2012. But Democratic candidates also face a choice: Will they invest in Latino outreach and make it clear to Latino voters that President Obama and the Democratic Party fought and achieved affordable healthcare reform? Without effective messaging by Democratic campaigns to Latinos, the distinction between the two parties' divergent approaches to health care will be lost on Latino voters -- who will vote for the candidates who promise to protect their families' health.

Joe Velasquez
Executive Director, NCLR Action Fund