Utah's ethnic and racial minorities are with the majority when it comes to concerns about medical insurance and their health in general, according to a report released by the Utah Department of Health.

The yearlong project explored what minority Utahns think about health insurance, medical care and health risks such as HIV/AIDS and tobacco-use prevention programs.

As its title suggests, the 2008 Qualitative Report goes beyond the usual yearly demographic data gathering. Meetings were held over several weeks with 180 people in 17 focus groups to determine minority attitudes on medical insurance, medical care, health and safety risks and the rate of tobacco use.

"The primary message is that Utah's racial and ethnic communities are very worried about the lack of health insurance," said April Young Bennett, a multicultural health specialist. "We also learned they want to have a say in public health decision-making and to be reimbursed for the time they spend on boards and committees."

Health department organizers need a more accurate count of uninsured minorities, in part so they are included in steps being formulated now to reform Utah's health-care system. The health department also wanted to find out if its outreach efforts with minorities are working and if its public health education campaigns are being heard by blacks, Asian-Americans, Hispanics and Pacific Islanders.

Owen Quionez, director of the department's Center for Multicultural Health, said the multiple-meetings approach opened and improved communication between public health workers and minority community members and allowed a review and analysis for the health needs.

The report details how the health department plans to incorporate suggestions from the multicultural community to improve health-care access and provide more wellness assistance. It also explains what public health is already doing to address some of the issues mentioned in the meetings.

Not all recommendations can be implemented, but reasons why, such as the recent significant budget cutbacks, are also explained.

Members in the focus groups also said repeatedly they want health messages to be concise and culture-specific, and they prefer person-to-person communication over mass marketing.

"We are now ready to find creative ways to meet their needs in light of current budget constraints," Bennett said.

One step they'll take is an immediate plan to begin sponsoring smaller, annual community forums and use other methods to seek community input more frequently.