MINORITY HEALTH: Denver Hispanics Driven to Alternatives
A front-page article in today's New York Times takes a look at the "ills of the uninsured" in Denver, CO, where a vast Hispanic population accounts for a quarter of the city's residents. Nationwide, 34% of the 31 million Hispanics lack health insurance, compared with 22% of blacks and 12% of non-Hispanic whites. Policy experts blame much of the disparity on the low number of Hispanics who receive health insurance through their employers. While only half of all Hispanics have employer-based coverage, two-thirds of African Americans and three-quarters of whites do. And the Times reports that aside from the Children's Health Insurance Program, little emphasis has been put on expanding access to coverage for Hispanics, many of whom are immigrants. In fact, according to Ann Zuvekas of the George Washington University Center for Health Policy Research, "Public policy has been to make sure that many immigrants don't get insurance."
Often distrustful of the health care system or wary of cultural and bureaucratic differences, many Hispanics, particularly those from Mexico and Central America, turn to alternative care based largely on religion and home remedies. The Times illustrates with a description of one area clinic, which primarily serves the area's poor and Hispanic residents, but employs mostly non-Hispanic white physicians who often present language barriers that drive Hispanics out of the health care system. In response to the need, according to Dr. Rick Padilla, a local family physician, nearly 200 curanderas, or healers, work out of their homes in the Denver area and cater to the largely uninsured Hispanic population. "They're not very well regulated," he said, but added that "when he feels that Hispanic patients' fears and suspicions obstruct their care, he refers them to a trustworthy curandera" (Kilborn, New York Times, 4/9).