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Minorities face hurdles in getting health care

Published: Wednesday, June 27 2012 11:50 p.m. MDT

In this March 22, 2010 photo, Jose Perez, 22, receives dialysis treatment at a clinic in New York. Perez, an undocumented immigrant, suffers from renal failure and receives dialysis treatment three times a week. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

Seth Wenig, ASSOCIATED PRESS

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Editor's note: This report is part 5 of "Coming to our Census," a series of reports that takes a careful look at the issues posed by the changing demographics of Utah and the nation.

Related coverage

Part 1: The changing face of Utah - Are we ready to embrace the future?
Part 2: Poll results: Utahns welcome diversity but perceptions don't always match reality
Part 3: Some solutions in place to close education gap, but is Utah willing to pay for them?
Part 4: Latino students face barriers to higher education
Part 6: Immigrants, refugees can choose which aspects of culture to assimilate

Editorial: 'Coming to our Census' series takes needed, critical look at issues posed by Utah's changing demographics

Lists: Poll responses: Benefits of a more diverse population in Utah; Poll results about Census data: Perceptions don't always match reality

KSL coverage: 'Coming to our Census'

SALT LAKE CITY — Three-year-old Sinai is draped across her mother's lap, chocolate eyes dull and downcast, long eyelashes fluttering. For two days, her aunt explains as she reaches over to stroke the little Latina's black hair, she has been turning down food and complaining of throat pain.

"I worry when the kids are sick," Rita Mosqueda says. Since her sister and her five children moved into her West Valley City split-level six months ago, the 40-year-old immigrant mother of three and her husband have been paying the bills for both families. A day-care worker and a landscaper, neither have health benefits.

Ethnic minorities are far more likely to be uninsured than the American population as a whole. While just 13.9 percent of Caucasians don't have insurance coverage, the same is true for 33 percent of Hispanics, 22 percent of blacks and 18 percent of Asians. Perhaps as a result, despite notable progress in the overall health of the nation, there are continuing disparities in the burden of illness and death experienced by minorities. Black and Hispanic children are almost three times as likely to be in poor or only fair health as white children. Not only are minority populations more likely to develop chronic diseases, they are also more likely to get sicker and die from them.

This year, for the first time in history, the number of minority babies born in the United States outnumbered the number of white babies, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. As the demographics of the nation shift, health care experts say the need to address minority health issues is becoming more and more urgent. Excess rates of preventable diseases among minorities are expected to cost taxpayers approximately $337 billion over the next decade, according to research from the Urban Institute. Left unchecked, these annual costs will more than double by 2050.

"I strongly believe that the future of our health care system depends on its ability to grapple with the confluence of demographics and health care disparities," said Sinsi Hernandez-Cancio, director of health equity for FamiliesUSA, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit dedicated to promoting high-quality, affordable health care.

Access to health care

For now, Mosqueda quiets her worry for Sinai by sending her teenage daughter to the drug store to get advice from the pharmacist. She'd go herself, but her English is not good and she worries about her ability to correctly interpret important medical directions. She prays the syrup the teenager brings home will do the trick. If not, well, "I try not to worry about that," she says, with the help of an interpreter. Mosqueda can't pay for medical care.

Disparities in minority health can be attributed in large part to socioeconomic factors, Hernandez-Cancio said. Poverty is strongly correlated with poor health and, in the United States, minority poverty rates are more than double white poverty rates. Minorities are more likely to work low-wage, more physical jobs and less likely to have health insurance.

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