Federal Lawmakers Examine Increasing Number of Uninsured Hispanics
While Congress debates the patients' rights bill, some federal lawmakers are focusing on the "growing millions" of Hispanic adults and children who are eligible for but not enrolled in public health programs, a problem that is "most severe" in California and Texas, the Fresno Bee reports. At least four out of every 10 Hispanics in those two states lack insurance coverage. According to the Census Bureau, 11 million of the 35 million Hispanics living in the United States are uninsured. More than one in three uninsured Hispanics live in California. Rep. Robert Matsui (D-Sacramento) said, "This is a major problem getting worse." He faulted state governments for failing to "be more aggressive" in enrolling eligible people in public programs because it would "affect" states' budgets. But California officials say they are making a "major effort" to enroll Spanish-speaking residents into state-funded health programs (O'Rourke, Fresno Bee, 6/25). At the beginning of the year, officials unveiled a statewide multi-lingual television and radio campaign designed to increase children's enrollment in Healthy Families and Medi-Cal (California Healthline, 1/26). Bertha Gorman, spokesperson for the California Health and Human Service Agency, said that while Hispanics account for 32% of the state's population, 67% of children participating in Healthy Families are from Spanish-speaking families.
Meanwhile, Sens. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) and Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) are looking at a "package of tax credits and federal incentives" for states to increase Hispanics' enrollment in public health care programs. They say that the patients' rights bill would do little to help uninsured Hispanics, who are not enrolled in private or public coverage programs. But Rep. Pete Stark (D-Fremont), whose district contains "thousands" of uninsured Hispanics, said he sees "little prospect" for improving Hispanics' access to such programs in light of the large tax-cut packages signed by President Bush this month. The Bee notes that "fear of government" often discourages Hispanics from enrolling in state programs. E. Richard Brown, director of the University of California-Los Angeles Center for Health Policy Research, said that Bush could help by clarifying that immigrant families would not jeopardize their residency applications by enrolling in public health programs (Fresno Bee, 6/25).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.