Obama to Latinos: Last call for health care signup (updated)

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President Barack Obama urged uninsured Latinos to sign up for health care through new exchanges before the window closes at the end of March.

Obama was speaking at a virtual town hall hosted by Spanish-language media outlets. It's part of an administration-wide push to boost last-minute enrollment figures that are critical to the success of Obama's health law.

Obama said immigrants in the U.S. illegally aren't eligible, but those here legally are. He told Latinos who are here legally but have family members who aren't that they should still sign up. He said they don't have to worry because information collected isn't handed over to immigration services.

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Obama was told about one undocumented mother in particular who said she has not signed her citizen children up for insurance because she’s afraid of deportation.

“The mother should not be fearful,” the president said, adding, “of course I understand her fear.” To all families with mixed immigration status, Mr. Obama asserted that “there’s no sharing of the data from the health care plan into immigration services. You should feel confident that if somebody in your family is eligible, you should sign them up.”

The president repeatedly stressed the advantage of having health insurance in case of sickness or an accident. He urged people in the Latino community to “talk to your friends, your neighbors, your family, your co-workers. Ask them, take a look. Does this make sense for you? Does it make sense for your family?”

Obama was asked about the head of a family making $40,000 to $50,000 a year who might find a $300 monthly health insurance bill to be too expensive.

“If you look at that person’s budget, if you looked at their cable bill, their telephone, their cell phone bill, others things that they’re spending on,  it may turn out they just haven’t prioritized health care, because right now everybody’s healthy. Nobody wants to spend on health insurance until they get sick.”

With the end of open enrollment for policies that take effect this year looming on March 31st, the president urged Latinos to sign up now, rather than wait for the last few days, since that could crash the government’s website. (California runs its own enrollment website, Covered California, which is separate from the federal site.)

The president said he is “very proud” of the Affordable Care Act. He noted that, under the law, more than four million people have signed up for private health insurance, three million young people can remain on their parents’ policies until they turn 26, millions have been added to Medicaid in the states that have expanded it, and seniors are getting discounts on prescription drugs and Medicare. He expressed confidence that “five years, ten years from now, people will look back and say, that this was the right thing to do. And at that point the Republicans won’t call it Obamacare anymore.”

California's state-based exchange was also hosting Obama's event. California's program has come under heavy criticism for lackluster efforts to sign up Latinos.

This story has been updated.

With contributions from Associated Press reporter Nedra Pickler

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