by Mayra E. Alvarez, M.H.A. for Latina Style Magazine
There is a saying in Spanish, “La salud vale más que todas las riquezas,” which loosely means “Health is better than wealth.” It’s a saying that speaks to many Latinos who, like my immigrant parents from Mexico, came to America understanding that our health is critical to our ability to succeed in school, find a job, and create middle-class security for our family. Today, thanks to President Obama’s health care law, affordable health insurance will soon be within reach to make that American Dream a reality for millions of more Latinos.
Health insurance is more than just a card in your wallet. It’s the peace of mind getting our families the preventive care they need to stay healthy. It’s the comfort of knowing a hospital bill won’t wipe away everything they’ve worked for. It’s security, and it makes our families and communities stronger.
Because of the new health law, millions of Latinos who are part of the majority of Americans with insurance are already receiving smarter, stronger care. Close to one million Latino young adults who were uninsured have gained coverage by being able to stay on their parent’s health plan. More than eight million Latinos with private insurance have access to preventive services like wellness visits, cancer screenings, and contraception, all without having to pay anything out-of-pocket.
And because of the new health law, we also have a once-in-a-generation opportunity over the next year to expand the ranks of insured Latinos. In fact, 25 percent of the population eligible for new insurance coverage options is Hispanic and 10 percent speak primarily Spanish.
And it comes at a critical time. One in three Latinos in America lacks access to health insurance. One in two lacks access to a consistent source of care. Latino families do their best to juggle a lot of priorities, but after paying rent and utilities, and buying groceries and gas, there may not be much left to afford health care.
These types of health disparities are barriers to economic opportunity for the Latino community. Our kids can’t learn in school if they’re home sick with a preventable illness. Parents can’t do well on the job if a previous injury has turned into a chronic condition because they never went to see a doctor. A young, aspiring Latina might not go to college and get a good job because her family had to cash out college savings to pay for hospital bills.
But soon, every state will get a new Health Insurance Marketplace where families and small business owners can find a plan that fits their budget. You’ll be able to shop for coverage over the phone, in person, or online through the easy-to-use Marketplace website, healthcare.gov or cuidadodesalud.gov. And if you need help paying for coverage, you may be eligible for financial assistance to help pay for health insurance purchased in the Marketplace. Many states are also expanding Medicaid, which will help lower-income Latinos find another option for new coverage.
But just because they have the chance to get covered doesn’t mean they will. Some people have been uninsured or underinsured for so long that they simply don’t believe that affordable insurance coverage will ever be within reach. A big share of the uninsured is young and healthy who don’t think they need insurance. In fact, there are nearly five million uninsured Latinos alone between the ages of 18 and 35. So we have a huge opportunity, but we also have a lot of work to do.
That’s why we need your help. From Latino business leaders to mamís and papís, tíos and tías to Latino elected officials, we all have a role to play to spread the word, sign people up, and help educate Latinos about the health insurance coverage options available to them.
You can start now by visiting HealthCare.gov or cuidadodesalud.gov and signing up for updates that you can share with your family and friends. As we get closer to October 1st when the new Marketplace opens for enrollment, you can support our outreach efforts through traditional and social media and by talking with your neighbors and colleagues.
My parents, like millions of other Latinos, came to this country to reach their American Dream. With affordable health insurance coverage, all Americans have one more tool in making their dreams a reality.
by George A. Zeppenfeldt-Cestero for Latina Style Magazine
It was not an oversight that when we selected the title for our upcoming 13th Annual Healthcare Diversity Awards that we chose, “The Affordable Care Act and the Role of Hispanic Leaders” instead of the role of Hispanic health care leaders. It is the responsibility of every Latino, whether a health professional, business leader or any member of the community, to insure that the Affordable Care Act (ACA) delivers its intended benefits to our community in a culturally and linguistically competent manner. Likewise, the health care workforce needs to reflect the communities it serves and make sure opportunities exist to obtain the same quality health outcomes that all Americans expect from health care. I have equally high expectations that those providers, who care for children, family members including our elderly family members, will have the tools, resources and leadership organizations to fulfill that mission. With the creation of the Roundtable of Professional Hispanic Health Associations which the Association of Hispanic Healthcare Executives (AHHE) first convened in 2008, including the National Hispanic Medical Association, the National Association of Hispanic Nurses, the Hispanic Dental Association, the Latino Medical Student Association, the National Hispanic Chamber of Commerce on Health and others, we are all dedicated to the mentoring of the health care workforce pipeline, supporting leadership development, health policy advocacy and inclusion in board governance.
When I look at the leadership profile in these areas, it is apparent that women are increasingly taking leadership roles and responsibilities. We all know that there are more women than ever in the workforce, although more attention has to be given to their presence in the Chief Executive Officer Suite (C-suite.) In addition to their traditional roles, women are also income earners and leaders. Women are in a unique position to educate the community as to the importance of mentorship and leadership. I am inspired by my soon to be 90 year old mother, Belen Cestero, who continues to volunteer at her senior center, serves on their advisory council, and says, “Eat yucca, get preventive care, and exercise daily.” She can still discuss with me the latest topic on Meet the Press.
The ACA gives the states resources to offer the Small Business Option Program (SHOP) which was developed to assist small business employers identify private healthcare insurance options in the Marketplace for their employees. These private health insurance plans are available in the Marketplace where individuals and small businesses may shop and purchase affordable health care insurance. It is known that small business owners pay more for healthcare insurance due to not having sufficient buying power; thus, the ACA will assist by providing tax credits to qualifying employers. An employer with up to 25 full-time or full-time equivalent employees with annual wages of less than $50,000, may receive up to a 35% tax credit and up to 25% for non-profit companies for providing 50% of their employees’ health care insurance premiums. The employers may start to enroll on October 1, 2013 with the coverage beginning on January 1, 2014. For state- specific SHOP information: http://www.healthcare.gov/marketplace/about/state-marketplace/index.html
Included in the ACA is the “health navigators” which will provide outreach and enrollment services to the community. We need to be engaged with those serving as health navigators to guarantee that no one is left behind. Equally, we have to participate with business associations, such as Hispanic Chambers of Commerce, in our communities to insure that women, minority and veteran-owned companies obtain all support under the ACA including supplier diversity opportunities within the health industries. The National Hispanic Chamber of Commerce on Health is working with hospital trade associations and the pharmaceutical industry, to insure those opportunities.
For too long, families and small businesses across the country watched helplessly as the cost of health insurance skyrocketed, making it harder to make ends meet. Insurance companies denied coverage to people who needed care, while many Americans lived one illness or one accident away from bankruptcy. As more and more people struggled to afford health insurance, particularly in minority communities, it became clear that Congress needed to take steps to address the rising costs of insurance and make health care more accessible for the American people.
The Affordable Care Act will make a huge difference in the lives of Hispanic families. Prior to passage of the law, disparities in access to health care as well as the quality of care continued to worsen, leaving the emergency room as the only source of care for too many people. Passed by a Democratic Congress and signed into law by President Barack Obama, the Affordable Care Act gives millions of families across the country the peace of mind that when they need it most, they will have affordable health insurance and guaranteed coverage. Under the law, it will be easier to obtain quality care, which is critical to the 50 percent of Hispanics who do not have a regular doctor and the third of Hispanics who are uninsured.
Millions of Americans and small businesses will have access to health care next year when a new competitive private health insurance market will come on line. At the same time, new tax credits will be provided to help middle-class families and small businesses afford health insurance, while many states will expand Medicaid to ensure more low-income families have access to care.
The Affordable Care Act is also putting control back in the hands of the American people, not insurance companies. The insurance industry will be more transparent with guarantees that more of your premiums will be used to cover care, not expensive overhead or administrative costs. Already, the new law prevents insurance companies from denying care to children just because of a pre-existing condition such as diabetes or asthma, and this benefit will soon extend to all Americans. Free preventive services will help people stay healthy and address issues before they become more harmful and costly.
Thanks to health care reform, women will not have to worry that becoming pregnant, having breast cancer, or being a victim of domestic violence will be called a pre-existing condition used to deny coverage or justify higher costs. With women currently paying up to 48 percent more in premiums than men on the individual market, the Affordable Care Act ensures that this practice of gender rating will end and women will pay the same price as men.
Some of the positive impacts of the law are already being felt across the country. More than 100 million Americans have received free preventive services. More than 6 million young adults have been able to stay on their parents’ health plan. And 360,000 small businesses have received a tax credit to help them insure 2 million workers.
The numbers are staggering, but it’s the individual stories that illustrate just what this law means. Yvonne, from my state of New Mexico, lost her job when the company she worked for shipped it overseas. As a diabetic, private insurance companies would not insure her, so after becoming gravely ill and having to go to the emergency room where another problem was found, she had to wait two months to be seen at a hospital. When she finally was able to see the doctor, she was diagnosed with a form of lung cancer that would have been caught earlier if she had insurance. Yvonne passed away from complications resulting from the cancer after suffering through a system that discriminated against her for having a pre-existing condition.
It’s Yvonne’s story and the stories of so many like her that moved Congress and the President to action, to pass the Affordable Care Act, and to make sure that affordable health care is a right, not a privilege.