Latinos lack adequate health-care coverage
October 18, 2001
As a Latino man who has seen many of his own family members die prematurely, I'm disturbed by last week's report by the Institute of Medicine. The institute, chartered by Congress to advance knowledge to improve health, found that 35 percent of Latinos -- more than one out of every three -- under the age of 65 are without health insurance. This rate is far higher than the 17.5 percent of the general population who don't have coverage.
This is stark news, especially considering that Latino death rates are also higher than those of the general population, and Latinos are disproportionately in fair or poor health. Lack of health is a major cause of this disparity.
Without coverage, people have more difficulty obtaining needed medical care. Latinos are less likely than the general population to receive necessary preventive care, such as vaccinations or regular physician visits. They are more likely to end up getting their care in emergency rooms and being badly treated when they do get care, according to the report.
The report found that people without insurance are less likely to get regular care for chronic illnesses such as diabetes and high blood pressure. Lack of regular care for high blood pressure increases the risk of heart attacks, strokes and kidney disease.
When Latinos are in danger of dying, they often don't get the care they need. For example, Latinos with AIDS are less likely to get the anti-retroviral or combination drug therapies that could add years to their lives, according to the Institute of Medicine.
A lack of health insurance and the resulting poor health that Latino communities suffer may soon hit many other American communities. The current economic downturn and accelerating health-insurance costs threaten to bring widespread job loss and decreasing health coverage.
But there are ways to get people the health insurance they need. The government should expand programs like Medicaid and other public health programs to cover more people.
President Bush and the Congress need to help the working millions who lack health insurance from suffering from premature deaths and disabling illnesses. They should help buy health insurance for those who have been recently laid off.
Last May, Bush gave away more than 1 trillion dollars in tax breaks, many of them for corporations and the wealthy. A few weeks ago, he gave another $20 billion to the airline industry, even as its executives were buying new private jets. Last week, the House voted for $70 billion in new tax breaks for corporations.
It is time for our national leaders to stop focusing on the health of private companies and start focusing on the health of the American public.
Ramon Castellblanch is director of the undergraduate health-management program and an assistant professor at Quinnipiac University in Hamden, Conn. He can be reached at email@example.com.