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Minorities face hurdles in getting health care

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

Communities United also helps people like Mosqueda secure translating services.

Federal regulations require health care organizations to provide translators for those who struggle with English. But, according to a 2010 study from the Palo Alto Medical Foundation Research Institute, only 13 percent of U.S. hospitals meet the government language standards. Most hospitals provide language assistance in a timely manner to those who speak the most commonly requested language, but few provide services for those who speak less common languages. A majority of hospitals rely on untrained family members to translate and provided important paperwork only in English.

It is important to understand the specific needs of each ethnic group, so those needs can be met most effectively by providers, said Marylin Lynk, a researcher at Maryland's Adventist Health who is studying the provision of culturally and linguistically appropriate care at hospitals and other medical facilities.

"Having the physicians and nurses understand what some of the cultural nuances are or even what the health beliefs and practices are of different populations can help with increasing quality of care," she said.

Insurance for the poor

Perhaps the most sweeping solution to minority health care woes on the horizon is President Barack Obama's Affordable Care Act, said Lisa Clemans-Cope, a senior research associate and health economist at the Urban Institute.

"If the ACA is upheld by the Supreme Court, we have a historically unprecedented opportunity to address these long-standing differentials," she said.

The law expands Medicaid eligibility by establishing a national floor and providing coverage for low-income adults without dependent children, Clemans-Cope said. The gains for minorities will be huge, according to her research. She estimates blacks, Hispanics and Asians will all see an 8 to 12 percent increase in insurance coverage.

The ACA also sets aside $11 billion to invest in expanding and creating community health centers.

"ACA is a big step in the direction in improving access to health care for everybody," she said. "Differences in minority coverage rates and health care access will be reduced and you would expect that to be followed by improvements in health status. All of these elements add up to a really big expansion of coverage that was not going to happen without the new law."

But, she said, the law does not address the health care needs of the nation's undocumented immigrants and their U.S.-citizen children. Nationwide, 21 percent of all uninsured children live in mixed-immigration status families, according to the Urban Institute.

"If you really want to maximize enrollment you have to address mixed-immigration status families," she said. "Some families are eligible but are not enrolled and are not accessing the resources available to them. They live in fear that the immigration status of one member could be adversely affected if another member participates in a public program."

When it comes to insurance, Mosqueda isn't getting her hopes up, yet. But, she says, watching as Sinai whimpers in a feverish sweat, it would be nice not to worry.

"She is so sick," she says. "I can't really do anything about it."

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'

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