As Trump Threatens to Repeal Obamacare, These ‘Insurance Godfathers’ Are Signing Up Florida Latinos

President Joe Biden’s re-election campaign has already seized on Trump’s remarks about Obamacare, which was enacted when Biden was vice president, as part of his broader effort to shape a widely expected rematch with Trump next year.

“Health insurance is something that is absolutely necessary for everyone,” said Odalis Arevalo, one of the managing partners of a health insurance agency serving Hispanic clients in Miami. “And I know that anyone who supports the Republican Party that has health insurance through Obamacare would not support the fact that it would be taken away overnight. This is a fact.”

Arevalo and her business partner, Mercy Cabrera, set up enrollment centers to help people navigate the Affordable Care Act’s insurance markets and remember how some Cubans walked away saying “no, no, no” after seeing the name “Obamacare,” which was coined by Republicans who oppose the overhaul as a costly government takeover of health insurance.

Insurers could no longer deny coverage based on pre-existing medical conditions, and that prompted many Latinos to consider it, Arevalo says. In the years that followed, the women began signing up by the tens of thousands, earning themselves the nickname “Madrinas del Obamacare” or “Obamacare” godmothers, a reminder of the crucial role godmothers play in Latin American culture.

They have since renamed themselves “Las Madrinas de los Seguros” or “insurance godmothers” because they offer other plans. But they continue to display the word “Obamacare” on their office walls and in their advertisements.

“Obamacare” is seen in Miami on advertising banners, businesses and bus signs. Federal data from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services shows how widely it’s used here.

About 3.4 million Latinos are insured through the health law. Florida leads in enrollment with more than 3.2 million consumers choosing a plan during last year’s November 2022 to January enrollment period. Miami-Dade is the county with the most people enrolled, with about 750,000 users, or more than a quarter of the total population.

Florida is also one of 10 states that oppose expanding Medicaid coverage under a provision of the health law.

The two zip codes with the most registrations last year and this year were in Doral and Hialeah, centers for the Venezuelan and Cuban communities that are just north of Miami and are regular stops for Trump visits and rallies.

Last month, Trump posted on his social media site Truth Social that “the cost of Obamacare is out of control, plus it’s not good health care.” Although he said he was looking at alternatives, he did not share any plans. But Trump said he would not back down from ending it — recalling when the late Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., blocked the then-president’s efforts to repeal the law in July 2017.

During the Trump administration, Republicans were able to push through a provision that reduced the penalty for not having health insurance to zero, the most unpopular part of the law and something people in South Florida say makes them feel more comfortable with the plans .

The Miami Herald, in a recent editorial, called Trump’s plans — also supported by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, another GOP presidential candidate in 2024 — “extremely out of touch with voters.”

The Biden campaign quickly mobilized a response, and Florida Democratic Party Chairman Nikki Fried specifically mentioned an area where Obamacare is popular.

“Miami-Dade County will be hardest hit by Trump’s anti-healthcare agenda,” Fried said.

According to a KFF survey conducted in May 2023, 59% of Americans say they have a favorable opinion of the Affordable Care Act. The same survey by the nonprofit, which focuses on health policy, found that 66 percent of Hispanics said they had a favorable opinion of the law.

According to APVoteCast, a large-scale survey of US voters, 62% of 2022 voters in Florida said it should be the federal government’s responsibility to ensure that all people in the country have health coverage. About a third of Florida voters in the 2022 midterm elections said it shouldn’t be the government’s job. Among Latinos or Hispanics voting in Florida’s midterms, 77 percent say providing health care for all should be the responsibility of the federal government, while 1 in 5 say it shouldn’t be.

Zulina Ruiz, a 72-year-old retired lawyer from Venezuela, said she learned about the Affordable Care Act’s opportunities quickly after arriving in the U.S. in 2017. She said she is especially grateful for access to medication to treat her high blood pressure pressure. Green card holders, refugees and other migrants who have been granted temporary protection status or who have recently arrived on humanitarian parole are also eligible for coverage under the law.

“This is very important for me. I don’t think one candidate can just make this program go away,” she said. “They would leave millions of low-income people without insurance.”

Ruiz became a US citizen in May, but has not registered with any party. She doesn’t know who she will vote for next year.

“I haven’t decided yet and we don’t have official candidates yet,” Ruiz said, adding that she still feels more connected politically to Venezuela. Much of the growing support for the Republican in Miami is due to Trump’s record of opposing socialist leaders in Latin America, including the White House’s imposition of sanctions on Venezuelan officials.

“But health policy is a top priority for me,” Ruiz said.

Biden’s campaign ran an ad in battleground states contrasting his efforts to lower drug costs with Trump’s renewed promise to roll back health care reform. The ad campaign does not include markets in Florida.

Arevalo, one of the “godmothers of Obamacare,” believes that Miami voters don’t necessarily approve of all the positions of the candidates they end up supporting.

But as for the local verdict on “Obamacare,” and despite initial hesitation about it, the program has grown on people in Miami once they understand it, she said.

“When Trump was elected, some people came and said they wanted nothing to do with Obamacare. We said, ‘Obamacare, Trumpcare, whatever,'” she said of what people were told. “The important thing is that everyone has access to health insurance and can take care of their health.

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