With less than two weeks of open enrollment left, Austin nonprofit Foundation Communities says it's reporting a noticeable decline in the number of Latinos signing up for health insurance through healthcare.gov, the federal insurance marketplace created by the Affordable Care Act.
Foundation Communities operates Central Texas' largest health care navigator program, which helps clients sign up for insurance through the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare.
Kori Hattemer, the director of financial programs at Foundation Communities in Austin, said health insurance experts in her group have noticed they're meeting with far fewer Latino and Spanish-speaking clients this year compared to last year.
"And so we looked at our numbers for November and saw ... about 300 fewer people overall – out of about 3,000," she said. "And 62 percent of the 300 could be attributed to fewer Latinos coming in."
Hattemer said typically Latinos make up about half of her group’s clientele during open enrollment.
"And this year, so far, they’ve only made up about a third of the people that we’ve seen," she said.
For months now, Hattemer said, she had been hearing from former clients who are concerned about a looming Trump administration policy that could change the criteria federal officials use to judge applicants for permanent residency, known as a public charge determination.
In essence, that determination weighs whether an applicant would be completely dependent on the government, if they were granted legal status. The Trump administration is currently trying to expand the factors considered in a public charge determination by adding various government services, among other things, to the criteria that will be held against an applicant.
The Trump administration said in its submission to the Federal Register that the primary benefit of these changes would be to ensure that those applying for legal status "are not likely to receive public benefits and will be self-sufficient."
When a draft of the changes was leaked earlier this year, it concerned immigrant families and advocates in Texas.
And while the current proposed rule change doesn’t include enrollment in the Affordable Care Act marketplace, Hattemer said many clients are still concerned about enrolling. She said they fear it might still affect their immigration status.
"I think there’s been a lot of confusion and a lot of fear related to public charge and it could be keeping people away," Hattemer said.
A study released this week projects more citizen children in the U.S. and Texas could forego health insurance – if these public charges go into effect. Public comment for changes to the public charge ends on Dec. 10.