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Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Data Show Affordable Care Act Coverage Greatly Improves Latinos’ Access to Health Care

Nygel Williams

Villers Fellow

During Hispanic Heritage Month, we recognize the various contributions of our nation’s largest minority group and celebrate how far Latinos have advanced. This month is also a time to reflect on the fact that too many Latino communities lack the opportunities to live safe and healthy lives that are the foundation for building a strong, self-sufficient future. The good news is that the Affordable Care Act (ACA) is helping more Hispanics obtain health insurance than ever before. And that coverage is translating to improved access to health care services, including the preventive services to screen for the chronic conditions that disproportionally affect Latinos.

New data shed light on link between health insurance for Latinos and access to care 

The ACA has had a tremendous positive effect on reducing the uninsured rates in all communities, but especially in communities of color. Before the passage of the ACA, one-third of Latinos were uninsured, a higher share than any other group. Since the ACA went into effect, Latinos are now the group with the biggest drop in the uninsured rate, down to one-fifth. But is having insurance translating to access to care?

Recent data from the Kaiser Family Foundation show that having insurance dramatically improves access to care. Latinos with health insurance scored at least 50 percent higher on six key measures of access to health care compared to uninsured Latinos. For example, Latinos with insurance—whether Medicaid or private insurance—were: 

  • three times more likely to visit a regular doctor at their usual source of care
  • nearly 50 percent more likely to receive medical care
  • roughly twice as likely to get preventive care 

Moreover, insured Hispanics were nearly twice as confident about being able to afford medical costs. This can go a long way in improving health outcomes in the Latino community. 

Having insurance is critical for tackling the conditions that disproportionately affect Latinos

Communities of color, including Latinos, struggle with multiple health disparities. Compared to non-Hispanic Whites, Latinos are both more likely to develop certain serious or chronic conditions such as diabetes, cervical cancer, and HIV, and more likely to suffer worse consequences from these conditions, including disabling complications and even death.

Several of the conditions that disproportionately affect Latinos and other communities of color can be averted or delayed with the right preventive care, and effectively managed with timely, consistent treatment. For example, catching and managing diabetes before it gets out of control can prevent complications like blindness, kidney failure, and amputations down the line. This infographic shows how certain conditions that disproportionately burden Latinos can be addressed through free preventive health services. Thanks to the ACA, most health plans are required to offer these services for free. 

Given the unequal burden of disease in communities of color, reliable access to the services to prevent and treat those conditions is important not just for individuals affected, but also to improve the quality of life and economic vitality of their communities. Yet, obtaining health care is significantly more difficult without health insurance, and unfortunately, Latinos are the group with the largest proportion of uninsured. While there are many factors that contribute to disparities, having insurance is essential to both preventing illness and managing it effectively.  

Of course, having health insurance does not guarantee access to care that is timely, affordable, provided in a language that you understand and meets your social and cultural needs. However, not having insurance makes it overwhelmingly more unlikely.  We know that sometimes other substantial barriers must still be overcome, including: provider shortages, inadequate health plan provider networks, geographic distance, lack of transportation, limited English proficiency, and providers who lack cultural competence. 

Nevertheless, having health insurance—whether a public insurance like Medicare or Medicaid or coverage from a private plan through an employer or the marketplace—is an important key to opening the door to needed care, including free preventive care. 

Getting covered is the first step!  

The open enrollment period for buying health insurance through the ACA marketplace begins on November 1. We need to make sure that more of our family, friends, and neighbors take advantage of this opportunity to get health coverage and apply for the financial assistance available to help pay for the marketplace plan they choose. 

Today, let’s celebrate Latinos’ vibrant contributions to the complex and colorful tapestry of our country’s history and culture. But when the party is over, let’s make sure we chart a course toward a brighter future where equal opportunity to live better, healthier, and more productive lives is a reality and not just an aspiration.