March 23, 2001

President Bush's Health Plan Needs Stronger Medicine

National Hispanic Medical Association Conference Prescribes Comprehensive Care To Build Healthy Hispanic Families

WASHINGTON — President Bush's plan to increase funding for community health centers reaches out to many Hispanics and the poor. Still left behind, though, are many hard-working Hispanics who have no health insurance, access to hospitals or other specialized care or even a Spanish-speaking doctor they can turn to, said Dr. Elena Rios, president of the National Hispanic Medical Association.

Dr. Elena Rios

A more comprehensive federal health care program, for example, would eliminate the shortage of Latino doctors in a nation where 12 percent of the population is Hispanic but only 5 percent of its doctors are, Dr. Rios said. Such a plan, as proposed by the medical association, would help bridge the gap in health insurance for the 40 percent of Hispanics who have no coverage. It would provide Spanish-language outreach to people seeking health care and other vital tools that make for "Healthy Hispanic Families."

"Healthy Hispanic Families" is the theme of the National Hispanic Medical Association's fifth annual conference March 23-25 at L'Enfant Plaza Hotel in Washington, D.C. The association represents Hispanic doctors in the U.S. The opening seminar of the conference will be Webcast by Kaiser Family Foundation.

"I'm very supportive of the new administration's focus to put our community first with more funding for clinics, but we must do more to improve the health of the largest minority group in our country," Dr. Rios said. "We need to help the federal government expand health care services to Hispanic families."

The conference has attracted a high-profile list of speakers, including; Bernard Swetz, acting commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration; and Nathan Stinson, deputy assistant secretary for minority health, Office of Minority Health at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Also scheduled to speak are Randolph Smoak, president of the American Medical Association; Steve Berman, president of the American Academy of Pediatrics; Richard Roberts, president of the American Academy of Family Physicians; Melvina McCabe, president of the Association of American Indian Physicians; and Rodney Hood, president of the National Medical Association.

The NHMA conference also will spotlight the problem of diabetes and how Hispanics are at high risk for the disease. It is estimated that nearly 30 percent of residents along the U.S.-Mexico border have diabetes and that one-third doesn't know it.

Government funded programs could bring health care to Hispanics who live in areas where there are no clinics but there is a need, Dr. Rios said. They also could help with financial aid, scholarships, loan repayment and mentoring programs "so that we can tell Hispanics in grade school that they can be the country's next doctors," said Dr. Rios. "We're going to work with President Bush to make that happen so there will be healthy Hispanic families for generations to come."

President Bush has pledged to double the funding to community health centers, where a third of the 11 million people served last year were Hispanic. The centers received slightly more than $1 billion a year in funding now.

The clinics provide primary health care, such as immunizations and prenatal care, to the uninsured and medically underserved. The White House said that many of these people live in inner-city neighborhoods and rural communities where there are few or no physicians or health care services. These Americans have lower life expectancy and higher death rates from cancer and heart disease compared with the general population.

"The National Hispanic Medical Association appreciates President Bush's support, and the next step is educating Hispanics that these facilities even exist in their neighborhoods," said Dr. Rios. "We want to get that message out so we can help this surging population."

The U.S. Hispanic pop. has increased by nearly 60 percent in the last 10 years to 35 million. By 2020, Hispanics are expected to account for 16 percent of the U.S. pop.

"How many Hispanic doctors will there be to serve them?" said Dr. Rios. "That's what this conference is about. If Hispanic families are healthy, America is more healthy."

Conference sponsors include Aventis, Ortho Biotech, Schering-Plough Oncology/Biotech, Merck & Co., Inc., Pfizer, Inc. and the Ronald McDonald House Charities (RMHC), which has awarded nearly $250 million to programs that improve the health and well being of children worldwide. Ken Barun, President & CEO of RMHC, will be honored at the conference for his leadership in RMHC's contributions to the Hispanic community.

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