LATINO HEALTH: Issues on the Upswing as Numbers Grow
This month's California Medicine spotlights the ascendancy of Latino health care issues, a rise that parallels the community's growing demographic clout and underscores its status as the state's largest uninsured population. According to the UCLA Health Policy Research Center, California's 10 million Latinos constitute 29% of the state's residents, and the population is expected to double within 11 years. Yet 38% of California's Latinos are without health insurance, and 55% of California's "chronically uninsured" are Latino. Central health concerns of the population include: cervical cancer, which affects Latinas at a rate double that of whites and African Americans; and diabetes, "the most serious Latino health concern," affecting 11% of the population.
The outlook is not entirely gloomy. With the surge in population has come a commensurate increase in political influence, as legislators turn their attention to the needs of the Latino community. Assemblyman Martin Gallegos (D-El Monte) said, "The new political climate has brought a lot of sunshine on these issues. There's tremendous support" for "government measures to improve health care access for Latinos and other underserved populations." Latino health activists also have a strong ally in Gov. Gray Davis (D), especially in contrast to the oft- antagonistic relationship between minorities and former Gov. Pete Wilson (R). Despite new leadership in Sacramento, however, "the surge in Latino health empowerment has primarily been driven by widespread grassroots activism." On the agenda are a host of bills that contain measures designed to ramp up Latinos' enrollment in public health insurance programs like Medi-Cal and Healthy Families, in addition to proposals "such as tax credits and expansion of the Health Insurance Plan of California" (Selis, April/May issue).