By Patricia Guadalupe
Hispanic Link News Service
The hoopla surrounding the glitches in the Obama Affordable Care Act’s, healthcare.gov has largely flown under the radar in the Latino community, which for the most part has been supportive of the administration’s healthcare effort, better known as Obamacare. A recent survey by the Transamerica Center for Health Studies, a non-profit healthcare research group based in Los Angeles, finds that Latinos are signing up for the healthcare exchanges at much higher rates (5%) than non-Hispanic whites (1%).
Latinos happen to be the highest group of uninsured – approximately 10.2 million — in the country, and also happen to be the largest bloc in some of the largest states, such as California and Texas. Sixty percent of Latinos in the Golden State are uninsured, as are 66% in the Lone Star State.
Clearly, says Héctor de la Torre, Transamerica’s executive director, they are the group to benefit most from the new healthcare law, and are doing so even with all of the negative publicity surrounding the website and the delay in rolling out the Spanish-language version, cuidadodesalud.gov.
“Many Latinos are what I would call analog. We want to talk to someone in person or on the phone. That’s especially true when it can be a complicated subject, such as trying to figure out which healthcare options to pick. We’re not going to necessarily get on the computer as a first resort.”
So what to do to start? To put it simply, first things, first.
Before getting on any website, before getting on the phone to talk to anyone, before looking at local resources, make sure you first answer some basic questions:
How often do you need to see a doctor?
Do you have prescription drugs?
Do you have a preexisting condition?
Do you currently have a doctor you like?
The answers to those questions will help you determine what type of insurance is best and whether the doctor you have, for example, would be covered by the plan you pick. “This will make navigating through the process much easier for you,” says de la Torre.
Don’t forget those states that have their own health exchanges. “The focus has been on the federal program and the website,” but if you live in DC or in one of the states that have their own exchanges, you don’t even have to visit the federal website, says de la Torre.
But what to do if you are searching on the healthcare exchanges for someone who has limited or no English skills? You have a right to talk to someone in Spanish and receive information in Spanish, not just to sign up but also when it comes to actual care, including doctor and hospital visits, says Alicia Wilson, executive director of La Clínica del Pueblo, a community-based health center in Washington, D.C.
“Too many Latino families do this informally, such as bringing along a relative or a child, or they pull in the janitor at the doctor’s office or the hospital to translate, when there’s no need to do that at all and it can even be dangerous. You open yourself up to errors and even issues of privacy,” says Wilson. “If you know your rights, you can demand your rights. Demand an interpreter if you think you or your family member may need one.”
The Clínica works with the capital’s growing Latino community and like many community health centers, offers medical interpreters.
“In the end it means more access for the community and it is actually less expensive in the long run,” Wilson added.
Latinos comprise nearly ten percent of the population in Washington, (having grown 20% in the last ten years) and most are from three immigrant countries – El Salvador, the Dominican Republic, and Mexico. Fourteen percent of Latinos in Washington, D.C., live below the federal poverty level, and according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Communities Survey, fully 29% of Latinos do not speak English “at all” or “not well.”
The Association of American Medical Colleges has estimated that by 2020 the nationwide shortage of doctors will grow to more than 90,000. The Obama administration has allocated $250 million to help “train and develop” 16,000 new healthcare professionals over the next five years, but that is not expected to keep up with demand in the Latino community, especially among dominant Spanish speakers.
“In terms of the Latino community nationwide and the number of doctors and healthcare providers who are Latino, there is no parity, and with the Affordable Care Act there will be an increased demand for healthcare,” said Dr. Elena Rios, president of the National Hispanic Medical Association, a non-profit association in Washington, D.C., representing 45,000 Latino physicians.
HMA works on a health leadership fellowship for mid-career Latino healthcare professionals and a mentoring program to put more Latinos in the healthcare pipeline. “It’s up to us (in the Latino community) to become informed and also help increase the number of Latinos in healthcare fields.”
Patricia Guadalupe is a writer in Washington, D.C. and Capitol Hill Editor of Hispanic Link News Service. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org