Making a direct sales pitch to Hispanic voters on Thursday, President Obama insisted that his administration would not delay the March 31 deadline for consumers to obtain health insurance or pay a fine.
"We are going to enforce the deadline," the president said at a town hall hosted by the Asegúrate campaign, a joint venture with the nonprofit California Endowment and Spanish-language media outlets.
“You have time now to sign up,” Obama insisted. “If everybody waits until the last minute … then in some ways it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy."
The Obama administration announced Wednesday that it would allow insurers to issue until October 2016 health plans that do not meet Obamacare regulations, stoking GOP charges that the Affordable Care Act is fatally flawed.
When asked whether the latest delay was an admission of a problem with the health law, Obama replied, “No, no, no.”
Obama turned his attention Thursday to the Latino community, a demographic critical for the success of the Affordable Care Act. The White House desperately needs Hispanics to sign up for Obamacare, as Latinos account for roughly 25 percent of the uninsured pool.
“Nobody actually wants to spend money on health care until they get sick,” Obama lamented at the town hall, urging Latinos to make insurance coverage a “priority.”
Obama also sought to downplay concerns that sign-up information would be shared with immigration officials, potentially leading to deportations of family members living in the country illegally.
"None of the information that is provided is in any way transferred to immigration services,” Obama said, noting, however, that illegal immigrants are not eligible for Obamacare benefits.
For Obamacare to work, the high proportion of younger, healthier Hispanics who are uninsured must sign up for the public exchanges to keep premiums down for older, sicker Americans. That’s why the administration has focused so intently on promoting the health law in Hispanic media, arranging a series of interviews between the president and outlets with a wide Latino audience.
The White House has held more than a dozen events on Obamacare tailored for a Hispanic audience and is planning 22 more in major U.S. cities in coming weeks.
However, Latinos have struggled to sign up for the Affordable Care Act thanks in large part to the botched rollout of the health exchanges — the Spanish-language website for Obamacare sign-ups took even longer to shake glitches than the English version.
Polls have since shown that Latinos are increasingly wary of the president’s signature domestic achievement. And the White House must be careful that any downtick in support for Obamacare doesn’t harm Democrats seeking re-election in November.
Republicans were quick to dismiss the president’s latest outreach to Latino voters.
“As the health care law unravels, Latinos will realize what vulnerable Senate and House Democrats discovered, Obamacare doesn’t work,” said Republican National Committee spokeswoman Izzy Santa. “Latino voters should ask themselves, ‘why are leading supporters of Obamacare not campaigning on it?’ ”