WASHINGTON — The nation's largest minority group risks being left behind by President Barack Obama's health care overhaul.
Hispanics, which account for about one-third of the nation's uninsured, seem to be staying on the on the sidelines as the White House races to meet a goal of 6 million signups by March 31.
Hispanics are "not at the table," says Jane Delgado, president of the National Alliance for Hispanic Health, a nonpartisan advocacy network. "We are not going to be able to enroll at the levels we should be enrolling at."
That's a loss both for Hispanics who are trying to put down middle-class roots and for the Obama administration, experts say.
Hispanics who remain uninsured could face fines, not to mention exposing their families to high medical bills from accidents or unforeseen illness. And the government won't get the full advantage of a group that's largely young and healthy, helping keep premiums low in the new insurance markets.
The Obama administration says it has no statistics on the race and ethnicity of those signing up in the insurance exchanges, markets that offer subsidized private coverage in every state. Consumers provide those details voluntarily, so federal officials say any tally would be incomplete and possibly misleading.
But concern is showing through, and it's coming from the highest levels.
"You don't punish me by not signing up for health care," Obama told Hispanic audiences during a recent televised town hall. "You're punishing yourself or your family."
Like a candidate hunting for votes in the closing days of a campaign, Obama was back on Hispanic airwaves Monday as Univision Radio broadcast his latest pitch.
"The problem is if you get in an accident, if you get sick, or somebody in your family gets sick, you could end up being bankrupt," the president said.
Last September, three of five Hispanics supported the national overhaul, according to the Pew Research Center. Approval dropped sharply during October, as technical problems paralyzed the health care rollout and the Spanish-language version of the HealthCare.gov website. Hispanics are now evenly divided in their views.
Delgado's group is asking the administration to extend the March 31 deadline. Officials say that's not likely.