June 28 2002

Congressional, State Leaders Will Meet July 1 to Learn How 12 California Programs Are Addressing a Crisis in Health Care and Bringing Health Insurance and Quality Care to Millions of Hispanics

LOS ANGELES – Congressional and state leaders will meet at the Biltmore Hotel July 1 to hear testimony on how California’s innovative programs for Hispanics, including those who lack health insurance, provide strategies that the rest of the nation can follow.

Lack of insurance is one of the most pressing health issues facing Hispanics. Nationally, 40 percent of Hispanic adults ages 19-64 and 27 percent of Hispanic children are uninsured, often going without needed care – even basic care such as a seeing a doctor – because high medical bills are a burden they cannot bear. The problem is even more acute in California, where 1 in 3 residents is Hispanic.

“It’s alarming that Hispanics have the highest uninsured rate of any racial or ethnic group in the country,” said Dr. Elena Rios, president of NHMA, whose nonprofit association represents hundreds of physicians in the United States. “That’s why we’re going to Los Angeles, which has a high concentration of Hispanics.”

The symposium – “Lack of Insurance and Quality Care: A Health Crisis for Hispanics” – will be held from 8:30 a.m. to noon July 1 at the Biltmore Hotel, 506 S. Grand Ave., Los Angeles, in the Emerald Room.

The media briefing, sponsored by the National Hispanic Medical Association (NHMA) of Washington, DC, and the Commonwealth Fund of New York, will present real-life stories that as told by representatives of 12 local programs that are helping to decrease the high rate of uninsured and improve the quality of health care for Hispanic Californians.

“California has always been a trendsetter, and that is no different in health care,” said Rep. Hilda Solis (D-CA), one of the event speakers. “We hope to learn from California’s example and take those solutions back to Congress for action so millions of Americans everywhere can benefit from what California spearheaded.”

Those innovative stories include a health care facility where officials discovered that it was more beneficial to patients and cost-effective to require mandatory Spanish language classes for doctors rather than hiring interpreters. Congressional leaders will learn more about how that program and others help bring quality health care to millions of adults and children.

Invited speakers and honorary co-chairs of the event include Rep. Solis, Rep. Xavier Becerra (D-CA), Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-CA), and Rep. Grace Napolitano, (D-CA). Los Angeles County Supervisor Gloria Molina, State Senator Deborah Ortiz, State Secretary of Health and Human Services Grantland Johnson and Diana Bonta, director of California State Department of Health Services also have been invited to speak about California’s strategies to increase the number of insured Hispanics.

There is cause for concern. The Commonwealth Fund found that in the last two years, 57 percent of uninsured Hispanics in California did not have a routine medical checkup, making them the highest percentage of people nationally not getting health care.

“When they don’t get regular checkups, it’s less likely that a serious illness will be detected early, and when they finally do get care, they often have worse outcomes,” said Dr. Dora Hughes, senior program officer at the Commonwealth Fund, a private foundation that supports independent research on health care and projects that improve health care practice and policy.

A lack of health insurance also affects the quality of care patients receive. According to recent Commonwealth Fund national surveys, lacking health insurance limits access to health care, influences the quality of care patients receive and may lead to serious financial consequences for those with medical problems.

Today, more than 11 million Hispanics are uninsured, up from 7 million in 1990. National surveys show that at least one-third of Hispanics lack health insurance – twice the rate of the overall population. Among the working-age populations, the uninsured rates are even higher – two in five working age Hispanics are uninsured. These are troubling trends as the Hispanic population mushrooms.

Hispanics also have the greatest problems communicating with their doctors.

According to The Commonwealth Fund 2001 Health Care Quality Survey, almost half of the uninsured Hispanics, 47 percent, say they often don’t understand their doctor, they feel their doctor isn’t listening to them or they left the doctor’s office with unanswered questions.

"Part of the problems is that many hispanics who lac access to health care have limitedproficiency in English and are poor. As a result, they are foregoing regular health care check-ups and vital medical care," Dr. Rios said. "This is a tragedy in the Hispanic community and in a nation that boasts to have the best health care system in the world. Hispanics deserve better from the American Dream."

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