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College study: Latinos face greater health risks due to access problems

From the May 2000 ACP-ASIM Observer, copyright © 2000 by the American College of Physicians-American Society of Internal Medicine.

By Ingrid Palmer

WASHINGTON—Latinos in the United States face greater health risks than the general population because they are less likely to have health insurance, according to the results of a new College study on access to care.

The report, "No Health Insurance? It's Enough to Make You Sick: Latino Community at Great Risk," was presented by College Immediate Past President Whitney W. Addington, MACP, during a March 22 press conference at the U.S. Capitol.

"One in three Latinos is uninsured," Dr. Addington said. "Like the rest of the population without insurance, they tend to live sicker and die younger."

While Latinos currently make up 11.7% of the population, they account for 25% of uninsured Americans.

The study found that Latinos who do not have access to health coverage are less likely to receive preventive services, are less likely to have a regular source of care and are less likely to receive necessary medical treatment. They are also more likely to delay seeking care, to use the emergency room as a regular source of care and to face poor medical outcomes and premature death.

"Early detection and treatment is the key to effectively managing diseases such as diabetes and cancer," Dr. Addington said. "The lack of insurance among Latinos means many members of this population are destined to undergo needless suffering—and even death—for conditions that could have been successfully treated if detected earlier."

Congressional representatives from Colorado, Florida, New Jersey and Texas, states with large Latino populations, joined the College's appeal for universal health care at the press conference. They discussed health problems among Latinos and talked about the heightened health risks faced by Latino women, infants and children without health insurance.

The new College study also found the following:

  • Mexican-Americans are three-and-a-half times less likely than the general population to seek health care for hypertension.
  • Latinos suffer from diabetes-related end-stage renal disease up to six times more than the non-Latino white population.
  • Uninsured Latino children with asthma are six times more likely not to receive standard medical treatment.
  • Uninsured Latino women with breast cancer are more than twice as likely to be diagnosed at a later stage than non-Latinos.
  • Uninsured Latino men with prostate cancer are almost four times more likely to be diagnosed at a later stage than non-Latinos.

The report is the latest effort in the College's Decision 2000 Campaign, which is educating policy-makers, candidates running for office and the public about the importance of access to health care as a public health issue.

Dr. Addington called on all presidential and congressional candidates to pledge themselves to solve the problem of access to care. "If we all recognize the health risks associated with the lack of health insurance and if we can all agree that it is a problem that must be solved," Dr. Addington said, "I believe we can achieve health coverage for all in the near future."

For the full version of the report, go to the College's Web site at www.acponline.org/uninsured/index.html.

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