By Susana Sánchez, Community Mobilization Intern
Luckily for me and my family, we always had health insurance in my native country. Since the 1940s, Costa Rica implemented a public health insurance system that insures most of its citizens. Even though my country’s health care system has been highly rated, it has flaws that have to be fixed. Nonetheless, I do not remember seeing my family or friends worry about getting sick or going to the hospital because they would not have money to pay the medical bills, they simply went to see the doctor or went to the emergency room. I recall my mother choosing a private gynecologist of her choice to obtain her prenatal care when she was pregnant of my sister. I remember how my aunt got a surgical removal of an ovarian fibroma through the public health care system and did not have to pay any co-payment or deductible. I also remember all my aunts getting prenatal care and delivering without worrying about paying medical bills at the public health care system. As I was still young, I did not need any reproductive health care while I lived in Costa Rica.
After graduating from high school, I got a scholarship to attend medical school in Cuba. My scholarship included health insurance coverage. Before I started to be sexually active, I was able to talk about my reproductive health and contraceptive methods with a family doctor, and was able to choose a contraceptive method without being concerned about paying for it because they were very inexpensive. I remember how I felt uncomfortable with the injection and was able to talk with a doctor about it and simply change to birth control pills. In addition, I could have gotten a legal safe abortion at a health clinic free of cost if I had needed it. There is no stigma attached to abortions, most Cubans consider it another medical procedure, which would have been a relief coming from a deeply Catholic country. I even got an appendicitis surgical procedure free of charge at a Cuban hospital!
My experience with health care had led me to take health insurance for granted and consider health care as a human right. What a shocking experience it has been to come to the U.S. as a penny-less international student! It never occurred to me that the world’s most powerful country had a health care system that excludes the most vulnerable populations.
Luckily, I have been healthy in the US up until now, so I have only needed medical care for my reproductive health. However, even getting good quality reproductive health has been quite a challenge. For the first time in my life, I found myself uninsured and worst; unable to even obtain health insurance. Gynecologists are out of the question because I simply cannot afford to pay for their services. I have had to attend community health centers and Title X funded clinics. First, it is hard to get an appointment due to the high demand that these clinics have. Second, perhaps the intersection of my race and class has influenced how I have felt I have been treated at these clinics. Sometimes I have felt as if I am asking for handouts or that staff has a patronizing attitude. Once, I was not able to obtain the birth control pill of my choice because its price is unreachable for me ($90/package). Overall, I am barred from getting good quality reproductive health due to my immigration status and social class.
My experience may point out to a system failure rather than an individual experience, the overstated fact that people of color, especially immigrants, have unequal access to health care. I am not the only person struggling to get good quality health care, many Latinas, whether U.S. citizens, legal permanent residents or undocumented women, lack health insurance or received limited health care services.
Statistically speaking, Latinos are an under-served community disproportionally affected by laws and policies. The community is rapidly growing and in 2006 accounted for almost 15% of total U.S. population.
The list of sexual health care disparities of Latinas could be longer; however, this short list illustrates Latinas’ disproportionally lack of good quality reproductive health care and how even though most Latinas are foreign-born policies have prevented low-income immigrant Latinas to get to health care.
- In 2007, there were 30.1 million adult Latinos in the country, and adult Latinas made up 48% of them.
- The Pew Hispanic Center and the Robert Woos Johnson Foundation report that “More than one-fourth of Hispanic adults in the United States lack a usual health care provider.”
- The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, reported that in 2006 almost 40% of Latinas lacked health insurance.
- Approximately, more than 20% of Latinas live in poverty, and they are most likely to be employed in blue-collar jobs.
- It is estimated that about 52% of Latinas were born in countries other than the U.S.
- Approximately, 12% of Latinas get health insurance through Medicaid.
- In 1996, the federal government passed a law that prohibits legal immigrants to obtain Medicaid and Medicare coverage during the first five years of U.S. residency, and undocumented immigrants are ineligible for Medicaid excluding for emergency services.
- The recent signed into law health care reform prohibits undocumented immigrants from buying health insurance policies out of their pockets in the exchange system.
As reproductive justice advocates, let’s continue having an active role working to decreasing health care disparities to ensure that our community gets better and more health care access. During this week of action, let’s get renovate our energy that there is a lot to get done!
Susana Sánchez, Community Mobilization Intern is supported by the Civil Liberties and Public Policy Program