communities of color

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Health Decision Will Have Big Impact on California’s Ethnic Communities

A sign from a recent health care rally (seiuhealthcare775nw/Flickr)

Health disparities in the state are stark.

“Diabetes affects 13 percent of Native Americans in the state, 11 percent of Latinos, 10 percent of African Americans,” says Ellen Wu, the executive director of the California Pan-Ethnic Health Network (CPEHN). “That’s compared to five percent of the white population.”

Wu says there’s a gap in access to care too. That’s why the Supreme Court decision upholding the Affordable Care Act is such a watershed moment for her.

She says of the three million Californians who will now be eligible for coverage through the state’s health benefit exchange in 2014, two-thirds come from communities of color.

“For example with diabetes … they’ll be able to get screened earlier and prevent it. And when they do have onset they’ll be able to manage their care better and stay healthier,” said Wu.

The same goes for asthma, she said. “We know that for communities of color, they can show up in the emergency room for an asthma attack at higher rates than whites so the free preventive care under the Affordable Care Act (ACA) is really, really critical to keeping our communities healthy.”

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How Big a Barrier is Language to Enrolling in Health Exchange?

Most health care terms are not as easily understandable as this sign. (Elliott Brown: Flickr)

For people who don't speak English well, most health care terms are not as easily understandable as this sign. (Elliott Brown: Flickr)

As policy makers work toward setting up the California Health Benefit Exchange–the marketplace where individuals and small businesses will be able to buy health insurance–they’re grappling with questions on two fronts: what benefits the policies will offer and how to ensure that people enroll. According to a new report, 2.6 million adults under age 65 will be eligible for federal tax credits to buy insurance in this new marketplace. Of those people, 67 percent will be people of color, and 40 percent (or just over one million adults) will speak English less than very well. This lack of English proficiency could be a barrier to these people enrolling in the exchange, according to the report [PDF].

Ellen Wu is Executive Director of the California Pan-Ethnic Health Network, one of the sponsors of the report. “Language poses a barrier when people try to enroll in coverage programs,” she said in an interview. “We know that it’s just confusing for those of us who DO speak English well, and for those who have a different language other than English, it’s even more difficult to first find the materials in their language and second to understand the terminology.” Continue reading