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Healthcare Reform: Impact on the Latino Community

Led by Congresswoman Lucille Roybal-Allard (CA-34), the health care summit unfolded with a snapshot of the current system and challenges ahead. The United States currently spends more than $2.5 trillion on health care-more than any other country-yet ranks 37th in the world for quality of care.

Particularly damaging are the estimated 45 million uninsured. Latinos are even more affected by the system's shortcomings. While 15 percent of the population at large is uninsured, 32 percent of Latinos are not covered. One in three Latinos has no access to healthcare.

Lack of medical and dental care, exposure to industrial and agricultural toxins in the workplace, and poorer quality environmental quality in many Latino neighborhoods-combined with nutritional and other lifestyle factors-has resulted in high rates of obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, HIV, other serious ailments, and in many cases premature death for Latinos. The undocumented are at greatest risk.

The economy has delivered a double whammy for health care-increasing the number who have lost healthcare coverage due to unemployment and also a cut back of optional benefits provided by states through Medicaid such as vision, podiatry, and dental care. It's also taking longer to gain access to specialists, such as cardiologists, and screening such as colonoscopy scans are being eliminated due to funding cuts at many hospitals.

Healthcare Reform Priorities
Panel members listed critical healthcare reform priorities as comprehensive access to quality healthcare, coverage for preexisting conditions, and affordability-all without cost shifting. To address the issues of healthcare in underserved communities and effective communication with non-English speaking patients, diversity training and increasing the number of minorities in the healthcare profession is critical. Minority healthcare professionals are more likely to be willing to work in underserved communities. Hispanic patients are often less active in their treatments or noncompliant because they don't understand what the doctor is telling them.

Today, more than 6,000 communities are without primary healthcare professionals, the first point of contact where diagnoses are made. More than 4,000 communities lack dentists. Good oral care is essential to cardiovascular health, an area of high risk for Latinos. Equally important we need a wellness system. "We need to catch people heading down the road to a chronic disease," said Rakesh Kochhar, Ph.D., associate director of research for the PEW Hispanic Center.

Federally Funded Clinics and Other Safety Nets
While hospital emergency rooms are providing more and more care for the uninsured, there is a network of federally funded clinics across our nation, providing a safety net for the poor and uninsured.

Gloria Rodriguez, president and CEO of the Community Clinic Association of Los Angeles Country, reported there are more than 30 such federal and federally qualified independent free community clinics in Los Angeles alone. In addition, we need to recognize the value of home health care workers in providing quality of care and reducing healthcare costs.

Athena Jones, a home healthcare worker and member of the Service Employees International Union, reported that Virginia saves more than $560 million each year through the use of home healthcare services.

Battle of Public Opinion
Healthcare reform will not only be determined in the halls of Congress but in the battle for public opinion. Opponents to health care reform are erroneously alleging that noncitizens will benefit from tax dollars in the administration's reform efforts. President Obama has stated that undocumented residents will not be able to participate in the new federal healthcare system, but he also plans to move aggressively on immigration reform to address the plight of the undocumented.