How Latinos Can Become Better Health Consumers


, ,
Annika Darling

There are major issues that Latinos encounter when seeking health care — which is not only a necessity to leading a happy, healthy life, but a fundamental right.

In study after study, Latinos’ overall health has been found to be poorer than every other ethnic group in the U.S. There are various reasons for this disparity, including, but not limited to, economics and residency status. Frances G. Padilla, president of Universal Health Care Foundation of Connecticut, pushes to correct this injustice by educating, informing and advocating for universal access to quality health care for all.

“There is a high rate of lack of insurance in Latinos compared to blacks and whites,” says Padilla. “The challenge comes with chronic illness prevention and management. So it’s really important that Latinos have insurance, that they are covered either through medicaid or private insurance, and able to get to regular preventative health care, and if they already have complicated health situations that they are able to stay in care so their care is consistent.”

Some of the major health issues reported in the Latino community are obesity, diabetes and hypertension and their related complications. These are serious conditions that need immediate and long term attention, attention and care that most cannot afford without some sort of assistance — assistance they, unfortunately, may not know they qualify for.

“If they earn more than would make them eligible for services through medicaid then –through the health care exchange — they can also enroll into private insurance,” explains Padilla, “and quite often they can be eligible for subsidies, and up to a certain income subsidies make insurance more affordable for people.”

While gaining insurance would greatly increase access to quality medical care, for some, insurance may not even be an option.

“When you have undocumented immigrants and legal residents of less than five years, it’s a little trickier,” says Padilla. “Adults who are legal residents who have been residents for less than five years are not eligible for medicaid but they are eligible to enroll in the health care exchange, and that’s Access Health CT, but the subsidies available might not be sufficient to cover their full need.”

However, Padilla continues:

“If you are totally undocumented there is nothing you are eligible for. Even if you had the money. So you see, there are always these barriers that exist.”

It has been duly noted by numerous advocates like Padilla that this is part of the flaw in the affordable care act: that a whole group of people are being left out. These are all issues that Padilla urges the Latino community to get involved in advocating about.

Padilla says, “What I think needs to happen in addressing these issues of health disparities among Latinos is rooted in prevention, in outreach and education and the availability of community based services that are culturally competent and that are accessible to people.”

First off, Padilla says community groups need to get “smart” about these issues and start educating the communities they serve, be it a church, a clinic, a community health center, or the like.

“Even if they are not health oriented organizations,” says Padilla, “they should be asking people about their insurance status; they should be asking them about their health status.”

Padilla also recommends partnerships between such organizations to build a stronger unified front in order to reach the Latino community, to engage them and to move them to action — into advocacy work.

Padilla realizes what she is asking, what she is suggesting, is not easy, but it is also integral.

“People have to live their lives, they have to get to work, they have to get their kids to schools, or they’re sick and they have to get to the doctor, and to — on top of that — have to fight for the basic things that you need…seems like a lot to ask.

However, Padilla is concerned that “the kinds of decisions that are getting made about health care in our state” are getting made without a whole lot of input from the people most affected.

“There are some very interesting trends,” she says, “Trends that have the possibility to reducing access to care. So we, as consumers as patients, as everyday people really need to get smart about these things, and ask questions and challenge the prevailing wisdom.”

Padilla says one of the things that is of utmost importance is that the Latino community stay informed, which would hopefully and ultimately lead to action. While there are not always opportunities to take action every single day, there are opportunities for peoples’ voices to be heard.

One such opportunity is  Oct. 21. Universal Health Care CT will be holding a forum: Empowering Consumers: Strengthening Our Voice To Transform Health Care.  The forum will focus particularly on how people can become more engaged in a more effective way in advocacy. Get full details HERE.

“Sometimes people will read about it in the paper but not really fully understand what it all means,” says Padilla. “But to feel like their voice matters is so critical. Everybody together really does need to play a role.”