WASHINGTON – Experts on Latino issues agreed Wednesday that health care for U.S. Latinos is not what it should be.
“Latino families,just like all other American families across the United States and Puerto Rico,are facing an unprecedented assault on their health care,” Texas State Sen. Leticia Van De Putte said.
Nearly a third of the U.S. Latino population was without health insurance in 2004,according to the U.S. Census Bureau,and this shortcoming,fueled by recent immigration reforms,has many Latino leaders talking. The Census also said the uninsured rate for blacks was about 20 percent,and for Asians,the rate was 17 percent. The country's overall rate was 16 percent.
Van De Putte,in Washington for the Latino Leaders Luncheon Series,participated in a panel discussion about the subject. The luncheon series is a quarterly event developed by Mickey Ibarra and Associates Inc. in 2004 to promote discussions about prominent issues in the Latino community. Ibarra is a former Clinton administration official.
Van De Putte said that in her more than 26 years as a pharmacist on the west side of San Antonio,Texas,she has seen gaps in health care firsthand.
“We don't know why,exactly,or how disparities do exist within the Latino community or other populations at large. We do know that Latinos are at risk for more chronic diseases like diabetes,cardiovascular diseases and some forms of cancer,” she said.
Charles Kamasaki,senior vice president of the National Council of La Raza,said the group works to promote healthy living to combat health problems such as diabetes and obesity. The group also teaches methods to avoid HIV/AIDS and the avian flu.
However,he said addressing the Latino health care disparity is not simple. Kamasaki explained that a person's level of education,immigration status and health insurance status are barriers to health care.
“If you are uninsured and you don't regularly see a doctor or any other health practitioner,you are less likely to get information that is going to inform you about your lifestyle,” he said.
Kamasaki said the presence of more Latinos in the health field,not only as doctors but also as nurses and technicians,may bridge the gap. He said cultural differences in health care here and abroad is an issue. He said many recent Latino immigrants don't think they are getting high-quality care with a doctor who schedules many patients,ducking in for a few minutes here and there.
“Frequently,even if the language of communication is there,the signals that they are being sent is that this physician doesn't care about me very much. It reduces the credibility and esteem of that source and inhibits effective communication to inform patients about what they should and should not be doing,” he said.
National Latina Health Network President Elena Alvarado agreed with Kamasaki on the need for cultural competency. She said what many health care providers don't understand is the Latino culture's emphasis on family and on mothers' roles. If health information reaches the Latina mother,she said,it will reach the family.
“Latinas are the gatekeepers of the family – this is nothing new,” Alvarado said.