The Obama administration fell short of its target for signing up Latinos in the Affordable Care Act because of delays in launching the Spanish-language version of the website and in providing information that may have prompted them to enroll, people involved in the effort say.

The administration didn’t roll out CuidadoDeSalud.gov, the Spanish-language site, until December, and even then, it was a soft launch meant to catch flaws.

Other components to selling Latinos on the idea of enrolling, many say, were important, but came too late. Among those were a feature on the Spanish-language website that allowed people to compare plans and their costs. And a direct effort by the White House to push the healthcare program on the ground level, through town halls and interviews in Spanish-language media, was made near the end of the enrollment period.

“They couldn’t compare to shop for the best plan,” said Jane Delgado, president of the National Alliance for Hispanic Health, a nonpartisan advocacy network.

“Hispanics are wise shoppers,” said Delgado, who noted that the plan comparison information was not available until February. “If they can’t compare plans, they’re not going to sign up.”

Slightly more than 70 percent of uninsured Latinos who responded to a survey on the health care program earlier this year said that “price will be the determining factor in whether or not they sign up for a plan.”

Delgado’s organization assisted in disseminating information to Latinos about the government health care program, and helped them with enrollment.

Others believe that explaining more about the plan, and how it would help those who enrolled in the long-term, sooner than the administration finally did would have attracted more Latinos.

"They weren't able to get it right in terms of campaigning the policy," said Gabriel Sanchez, an associate professor and the interim executive director of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation's Center for Health Policy at the University of New Mexico, according to the National Journal. "If they would have done more of that early on in the process, that would have been more effective. That shows direct investment and engagement."

The administration had estimated that Latinos constitute about 14.5 percent of people who are eligible for coverage in the new health insurance markets, but they accounted for only 10.7 percent of those signing up for coverage in the federal exchanges by March 31, when the sign-up period ended.

Administration officials said the percentage does not include people who did not indicate their ethnicity or race when signing up.

“This is a marathon, not a sprint,” said Delgado, whose organization assisted in disseminating information to Latinos about the government health care program, and helped them with enrollment. “It’s for the long term. It’s a first step, the first part of a series of events that gets people informed about health insurance.”

Younger and healthier than the U.S. population as a whole, Hispanics, the nation's largest minority group as well as its least insured, were viewed as crucial to the success of Obama's health insurance coverage expansion.

Slightly more than 70 percent of uninsured Latinos who responded to a survey on the health care program earlier this year said that “price will be the determining factor in whether or not they sign up for a plan.”

Delgado's organization fielded more than 1,000 calls on March 31 regarding the healthcare program. She said many callers expressed confusion and frustration – something that other groups expressed as well.

“There’s a lot to learn about health insurance,” she said. “We told people that it’s a process, it’s a new program. We told them what they needed to get ready to enroll, and we told them ‘You may be put on hold for a while, but just get a book, or a puzzle, so you don’t get frustrated.'”

In a survey last month, Delgado’s organization found several roadblocks to Latinos signing up for insurance.

They included that 82 percent of uninsured Hispanic had not looked online for information on the government website, and that 68 percent of them said that they preferred in-person assistance to help them make choices and enroll in a plan.

Also, 46 percent of the 846 respondents said they had heard a little or nothing about the March 31 deadline for having health insurance, and 62 percent said they did not have enough information about the program to understand what impact it would have on them and their family.

“Obamacare has indeed made insurance more affordable and accessible," said Vanessa Gonzalez-Plumhoff, Director of Latino Engagement for Planned Parenthood, "and as Latinos start taking advantage of preventive health care benefits, like birth control with no copay and health screenings, word will spread and interest in enrollment will escalate."

But a more assertive push needs to be made to bring information about the healthcare program to Latinos' doorsteps, she said.

"We need to continue doing a better job of tapping into Latinos’ strong support and social networks with better information about the law and how to sign up," she said in a statement.

The Obama administration, for its part, said it expects more Latinos to enroll as word spreads about its details.

“It’s worth noting that Medicaid enrollment continues year-round,” said a statement by the Department of Health and Human Services. “So the number of Americans, including Latinos, who are getting covered will continue to grow even before the next open enrollment in November."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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