by Mayra Alvarez
Director of Public Health Policy – U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
Like so many of us, the topic of health care for this Latina is personal. Talking about health care brings to mind the well-being of our aging abuelita, or our mother’s constant use of Vicks Vaporub when we were kids, or the worry we feel when a loved one needs health care but can’t afford it. The Affordable Care Act, the health care law President Obama signed in 2010, gives Latina women and their families the security they deserve.
Compared to other American women, Latina women historically have had higher rates of heart disease, diabetes, cervical cancer, and HIV. Too many Latinas live sicker and die younger in America than they should. They are less likely to have access to quality health care and are less likely to get the preventive services they need to stay healthy. And too often, Hispanic women, like other American women who are the caregivers for their families, face difficult decisions between getting the preventive care they need or paying the bills at home.
But because of the health care law, Latina women can make their health a priority and have more opportunities to keep their families healthy. Today, more than 6 million Hispanic Americans who have private insurance can get many preventive services without paying anything out-of-pocket. For many Latinas with private health insurance, they have access to services like mammograms, pap smears, and well-woman visits without paying any additional cost. Getting these preventive services with no out-of-pocket costs makes it easier for women to access them, which can help address critical health challenges, such as diabetes and cervical cancer, that disproportionally affect Latinas.
Consider annual well-woman visits that help women and their health care providers determine which preventive services they need to stay healthy. Or think of the $20 or $30 co-pay for a mammogram or pap smear. We no longer have to worry about how that money could be used for groceries or gas instead of an important preventive service. And when it comes to taking care of their family, Latinas can know that these free preventive services include cholesterol, type 2 diabetes and obesity screening for men and women; immunizations for adults and children; and obesity and autism screening for children.
In addition, the Affordable Care Act ensures that the nearly 4 million Latinos on Medicare are now eligible for free annual wellness visits and screenings for certain cancers, and may be eligible for discounts on covered prescription drugs. For the many Latinas taking care of not only their children but also their parents, strengthening the Medicare program brings peace of mind.
Having a place to go for health care is also important to the health of Latinas. The Affordable Care Act is building on investments this Administration made through the Recovery Act to put more doctors and nurses in underserved communities and expanding and strengthening community health centers. Community health centers are trusted resources in their communities. As a result, more than one in three patients served by health centers is Latino.
And this is just the beginning. Not only do Latinas have an easier time getting care they need, more and more of them will be able to get the health insurance they need. Starting in 2014, over nine million Latinos who were previously uninsured will be able to get health insurance coverage. Because of the health care law, Latina women – and their families — across the nation will have the opportunity to lead healthier lives.