Latinas and the ACA: The importance of being covered
Latinas are the pillars of our community, and as such, deserve the peace of mind that comes with having quality, affordable health coverage.
An undeniable fact of being a woman, especially a woman of color, is that we get the short end of the stick in many areas, not the least of which is healthcare. Factors like language, cultural beliefs, someone’s individual financial situation, and many others have traditionally contributed to the disparity in access to health care for the Latino community, and Latinas specifically. In fact, according to the Department of Health and Human Services, Latinas are the LEAST likely group of women to be insured: 38 percent of Latina women are uninsured, compared to 14percent of white and 23percent of black women in 2011.
This point was driven home on an online conversation hosted by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services last week, as part of the “Latino Get Covered Week of Action.” The conversation revolved around Latina health, and the unprecedented opportunity the Affordable Care Act offers them in terms of access to much-needed basic and reproductive health needs. For starters, under the Affordable Care Act, “there are now more preventive services available with no cost-sharing or no co-pay. Health plans can no longer deny you coverage for having a preexisting condition, and annual or life term limits have been removed from central health benefits,” says Jeanette Contreras from the Center for Medicare and Medicaid of the Department of Health and Human Services (CMS).
For Latinas, there are very real financial implications when it comes to deciding whether or not to obtain health insurance. According to the Congressional Research Service (CRS) based on U.S. Census Bureau data from the 2014 Current Population Survey Annual Social and Economic Supplement, 23.5 percent of Latino families lived below the poverty line in 2013, and of those, 52.3 percent of those families is headed by a single Latina. (Full report available on their website.) Arilma St. Clair, a nurse and representative of the National Association of Hispanic Nurses (NAHN), believes this is the very reason why “it is important to get covered, because we understand the risk of really reaching bankruptcy. A simple visit to the emergency room sometimes can cost more than what anybody pays for their average month’s rent.”
The Affordable Care Act is already helping alleviate this through the availability of advanced premium tax credits to help lower the cost of monthly premiums for health plans on the marketplace. In addition, according to the HHS, an estimated 4.9 million Latina women with private health insurance now have guaranteed access to women’s maternity and preventive services without cost-sharing, including mammograms, colon cancer screenings, and other services.
Access to these services could have a real impact in bringing down rates of deadly but preventable diseases, such as cervical cancer. Ann Marie Benitez from the National Latina Institute on Reproductive Health (NLIRH), spoke about the condition’s disheartening statistics: “According to the CDC, Latinas have the highest cervical cancer incidence rates, and black women experience the highest mortality rates. This is a real issue for our community, and we continue to see these big concerns. So now is the time to enroll and we try to lift that up as much as we can.”
In addition to press, social media and nationwide events coordinated through a coalition of local and national Latino organizations, enrollment efforts include a wide web of community health representatives or “promotoras.” One of these promotoras, Claudia Estrada from Planned Parenthood Los Angeles (PPLA), spoke about their role: “With the health care reform we discovered that we have a need for the promotoras to be out there advocating for the services,” she explained. “There are still a lot of challenges to come but we are very committed to keep educating everybody in the Latino community and making sure we have the resources for them so they can successfully enroll in the programs.”
Because many of the promotoras come from the communities they serve, and most speak Spanish, they help build trust and credibility – a huge asset in understanding what the needs are at the local level. Language is one of the main barriers to access for this demographic, and Dr. Elena Rios stressed how important it is to keep this in mind beyond the current enrollment period: “As part of the minority population, we [Latinos] are going to be over half of Americans by the year 2042... We do need a workforce that is bilingual, bicultural and very much responsive to the growing access demands that are going to happen because more of our communities who will now have insurance for the very first time.”
Latinas are the pillars of our community, and as such, deserve the peace of mind that comes with having quality, affordable health coverage. As St. Clair so eloquently put it, “we’re mothers, we’re daughters, we’re sisters. We really have to make it a point to get enrolled, get covered, because caring for oneself is actually caring for others.”