Where is the Racial Data on Obamacare Enrollees?

Is anyone tracking how many people of color signed up for Obamacare?

By Brentin Mock Jan 13, 2014

So, here’s what we know about those who’ve enrolled for health insurance under the Affordable Care Act: As of December 31, over two million people have signed up through the market exchanges, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

This is a huge improvement over the 106,000 who enrolled in the first month the state and federal marketplaces were opened for business, somewhat in haste, in October. 

This progress is credited mostly to the Obama administration’s dogged attempts to fix the many problems with Healthcare.gov, the primary web portal for health insurance shopping. But there are still many unresolved issues with the website, along with those created by each state for purchasing plans.

But while the number of enrollees are increasing, what we don’t know is how many Africa-Americans, Latinos Asians and Native Americans now have plans. We know that there are millions of uninsured black Americans who qualify for Medicaid, the Children’s Health Insurance Program and other forms of financial assistance, but we don’t know how many of them have been able to actually benefit from them.

When asked for this data, an HHS spokesperson said that this aggregation hadn’t been done yet.

"For our first two reports, we shared metrics which provided the most accurate snapshot available of Marketplace enrollment-related activity. We will provide additional metrics when we are able to do so," said HHS’s Sherice Perry Dillard by email.

Asked for a timeline on when the racial breakdowns might be available, Dillard couldn’t say, but pointed out that applicants are not obligated to include their race or ethnicity when signing up.

The racial checkbox is voluntary on most, if not all applications. It seems that the government agency could track or collect racial data on those enrollees who at least chose to disclose their race. With over 30 percent of Latinos, almost 21 percent of African-Americans and 18.1 percent of Asian-Americans uninsured, compared to a 11.7 percent uninsurance rate for white Americans, the federal government might want to follow these figures. 

It’s also important to have this information publicly available for advocates who’ve been fighting for better access to adequate healthcare for years. I interviewed with Anita Johnson at KPFA’s "Hard Knock Radio" about this issue in November.  She told me that many uninsured black people in her Oakland and Bay area neighborhoods weren’t reaping the benefits of Obamacare. This is a shame because California is often touted as the state with one of the best functioning Obamacare websites. Racial data would help us determine who the sites are best functioning for.