Hispanics In The U.S. Are Likely To Be Uninsured

Congress is considering bills that would help provide health insurance to millions of Americans who don't have it. If this happens, one of the big beneficiaries would be Hispanics. One third of all Hispanics in the U.S. are uninsured. Dr. Elena Rios, president of the National Hispanic Medical Association, tells Linda Wertheimer that millions are uninsured because of cultural reasons as well as economic ones.

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LINDA WERTHEIMER, host:

The current Congress is considering bills that would help provide health insurance to millions of Americans who don't have it. If this comes about, one of the big beneficiaries would be Hispanics. A third of all Hispanics in the U.S. are uninsured. Dr. Elena Rios is president of the National Hispanic Medical Association. She says there are cultural reasons, as well as economic ones.

Dr. ELENA RIOS (President, National Hispanic Medical Association): Hispanics have health beliefs that are unique, lots of traditional ways of taking care of disease with teas and herbs and other things. And so families don't send their children or young adults to doctors. Another reason is other Hispanics come from other countries where their government provides health insurance.

WERTHEIMER: So they don't…

Dr. RIOS: They don't…

WERTHEIMER: …expect to have to pay for it themselves.

Dr. RIOS: Right. And there's also the trust factors. Hispanics cannot entrust these authority figures, and let alone government, because we have mixed families with undocumented grandparents who don't want to be deported back to where they come from.

WERTHEIMER: What, then, do you think would be the change that would be most important for this population?

Dr. RIOS: I think access to health care services by having affordable health insurance. Of course, there would have to be lots of education and outreach of the importance of purchasing health insurance.

WERTHEIMER: Sort of just get them on the insurance rolls, that would make the difference.

Dr. RIOS: Well, it's not only getting them on the insurance rolls. It's also we need the Hispanics to become the doctors and nurses in the clinics and in the hospitals in the communities that are going to have increased demand.

WERTHEIMER: One of the questions that was raised in some of those fairly obstreperous town meetings that were held over the summer about health care reform was about coverage of illegal immigrants. Now the president says it's not happening. Do you think it should? Is leaving them out going to cause some kind of consequence that we - that we need to take note of?

Dr. RIOS: Well, I think the consequence of leaving them out is that there will be more sickness carried by persons who are in our restaurants, who work in our hotels, who work in our communities that can impact every American citizen.

WERTHEIMER: Does your organization take a position on ensuring illegal immigrants?

Dr. RIOS: No, our organization agrees with President Obama to have this health care reform system be changed for American citizens and those eligible to participate for health reform, and that does not include illegal and undocumented.

WERTHEIMER: What about people who are in this country legally - not citizens, but here legally, working legally. Should they be covered?

Dr. RIOS: Yes, and in order to increase access to as many eligible people as possible in our communities, especially with Hispanic undocumented who have become legal, we feel that they should have access on day one, as everyone else would.

WERTHEIMER: Dr. Rios, this - and I know this has been a huge concern of yours, that there are so many people that don't have access to health care in the Hispanic community in the United States. Do you think that the kinds of health care plans the Congress is looking at will settle that?

Dr. RIOS: Well, I think that it's a first step in allowing an affordable health insurance system to be created. You know, 25 percent of the country is about to become Hispanic. We only have 5 percent Hispanic doctors, 2 percent Hispanic nurses. So to have cultural competence training targeted to populations like the Hispanic family and the Hispanic community is a very big success story yet to be seen.

WERTHEIMER: Dr. Rios, thanks very much for talking to us.

Dr. RIOS: Thank you.

WERTHEIMER: Dr. Elena Rios is president of The National Hispanic Medical Association.

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