IMMIGRANT HEALTH: More Lapses In Health Coverage
Twice as many Hispanics than whites had "temporary lapses in health insurance coverage" between 1993 and 1996, according to a U.S. Census Bureau study due out today. While only 25% of whites "lacked insurance for at least one month" in that period, 50% of Hispanics lacked coverage, as did 37% of blacks. "There's some suspicion that recent immigrants -- particularly if they're not here legally -- may have some qualms about signing up for public or private insurance," said Peter Cunningham of the Center for Studying Health System Change. The Dallas Morning News notes that the study also "shows that more people of all races have gone without insurance than other studies have concluded." Other reports had shown that 41 million Americans were uninsured, but today's study says that nearly 71.5 million people -- 29% of all Americans -- "experienced gaps in coverage from 1993 to 1996." Further, the study found that Hispanics' median time without insurance was 7.4 months, while it was 5.2 months for blacks and 4.5 months for whites.
The Dallas Morning News reports that the lapses may occur because of "people los[ing] insurance when they change jobs," some employers not offering health benefits and people not being able to afford them even when they are offered. "You'd expect to see these kind of steadily high numbers if we were in the middle of a recession and people were losing their jobs. But we're in the middle of an economic boom where most people are working," noted Cathy Schoen of the Commonwealth Fund. "The problem is only going to get worse if we do have an economic downturn at some point," she added. Schoen also noted "[h]aving gaps in coverage puts you at similar risks as being uninsured all the time," underscoring the importance of "stability of coverage." Other observers noted that a high rate of uninsurance translates into more expensive health costs as emergency rooms become the last resort for care (Ornstein, 9/15).
A new study of immigrant health suggests that American acculturation "can make immigrants sick in the head." The San Francisco Chronicle reports that a study of more than 3,000 immigrants living in Fresno, CA, found that while "immigrants typically arrive in the United States remarkably free of ... psychiatric ailments," after living here they "soon become just as messed up as the rest of us" (Hall, 9/15). The study, published in today's Archives of General Psychiatry, found that "Mexican immigrants to the United States have only about half as many psychiatric disorders as U.S.-born Mexican Americans." The "lifetime prevalence of mental disorders was 48.1% among US-born Mexican Americans, about the same incidence found among the entire U.S. population," but was only "24.9% among recent immigrants." The mental health problems observed in the study are "clearly a social effect, not a biological one," said William Vega, lead author of the study and public health professor at the University of California-Berkeley. "Mexicans come to this country with some kind of (culturally associated) protection against mental disorder, and that breaks down very quickly in American society," he said.
Welcome To America
The Los Angeles Times reports that drug abuse and the breakdown of the extended family were reasons the study gave for the higher rate of mental health problems. And the longer the immigrants stayed in the United States, the "higher their prevalence of mental disorders." E. Richard Brown, head of the UC-Los Angeles Center for Health Policy Research, said, "One thing our study ought to do is give us a little pause about how quickly we are trying to obliterate the ties of immigrant children to their communities and cultures." The Times notes that this study is the latest to suggest that "assimilation into American culture can have adverse health affects" on immigrants (Maugh/McDonnell, 9/15).
Hispanic Mothers Lagging
The front page of today's New York Times profiles the disparity between different races leaving the welfare roles. According to the article, "the number of Hispanic single mothers" on welfare has "held almost stubbornly steady," dropping only 7% while the number of white single mothers has dropped 57% and the number of blacks has fallen 30% (Swarns, 9/15).