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10% of Population, 40% of Uninsured

By admin | May 8, 2008

by Melinda Tuhus |

emiliio%20and%20abraham%20hernandez%20and%20felix.jpgAs with environmental initiatives, movement toward universal health care is coming from the states. That was demonstrated again on Saturday with a regional action summit called Latino Voices in Universal Health Care.

The Latino community is the fastest-growing segment of the U.S. population and has the highest percentage of uninsured and underinsured people,. That’s true in Connecticut as well. The latest census figures show that Latinos are ten percent of the state population but 40 percent of the uninsured.

Saturday’s summit was co-sponsored by the Universal Health Care Foundation of Connecticut and Latinos for National Health Insurance and held at the Sheraton Hotel in Meriden. The approximately 50 attendees hailed from Connecticut, New York, Massachusetts, New Jersey and possibly other states.

juan.jpg“We’re doing two things today,” said Juan Figueroa, president of the foundation (which is also a sponsor of this website). “We’re trying to strengthen a national voice through Latinos for National Health Insurance, while we figure out at the state level how to do some of this work. The ultimate solution needs to be a national solution, but in the meantime this is a way of creating momentum to get that national solution.” He said his expectations of action at the national level are not very high right now. But he pointed to the evolution of a bedrock social program to show how states might influence federal policy. “We had Social Security in ten states before we had it at the national level.”

Frances Padilla, vice president of the foundation, said, “The safety net [including Medicaid] is important, but we have, in fact, built a whole advocacy movement around protection of the safety net, and it’s no longer adequate to focus only on that. The safety net is a symptom of a much larger problem that we’ve got to tackle.” Otherwise, she warned, “We could win the battle and lose the war” for universal health care.

Speakers from Connecticut, Massachusetts and New Jersey laid out some of the policies and goals health reform advocates are working on in those states.

marissa.jpgMarissa Cardona (pictured), who works with Meriden Children First Initiative, said access to health care is a key concern. Even with HUSKY, the state’s health plan for low-income families, they often can’t find a doctor or dentist who will see their kids.

She said telling personal stories is a powerful and motivating factor in the struggle for universal health care, and told several about women who experienced problems from lack of adequate health coverage, including her mother, who couldn’t afford to pay for all the pills she needed for a debilitating and progressively worsening condition, so she bought only half of what she needed, which made her condition worse.

Cardona added that now she has excellent coverage through her husband’s insurance plan, but remembered just a few years back to when she graduated from college and didn’t have any health insurance for awhile. “I had bronchitis and I didn’t want to see a doctor and have to pay a couple hundred dollars out of pocket.”

Ann Malone of Massachusetts is executive director of the Alliance to Defend Health Care, which works to improve that state’s first-in-the-nation universal health insurance plan. She said it’s good that the state has fewer uninsured residents, but the “wasteful financing approach” is bankrupting the state. That proves to her that a national health insurance program is necessary to streamline the financing and achieve universal health care. Click here for more.

New York State Assemblyman Felix Ortiz said that when he introduced legislation to create centers to help people with eating disorders, it passed in record time – because the president of the Senate had a daughter with an eating disorder and he co-sponsored the bill. That illustrated to Ortiz the importance of sharing personal stories in the fight for universal health care – an approach also championed by the Universal Health Care Foundation.

Dr. Jaime Torres, a New York City podiatrist, is the co-founder of Latinos for National Health Insurance, which advocates for a single payer plan that would cover every person from birth, regardless of immigration status. Figueroa serves as vice president of the group, where he walks a fine line, because his own foundation is silent on the single payer approach, neither supporting it nor opposing it. In 2006 Torres was a spokesman for the American Podiatric Medical Association’s campaign, “Descubras tus pies” (“Discover your feet”), that shows Latinos how to prevent foot problems that can result from diabetes, which is a major problem in that community.

During a break, New Haven brothers and pastors Emilio and Abraham Hernandez button-holed Ortiz (pictured at top of story, left to right) to discuss the urgent need for major reforms in the provision of health care, and their frustration with many politicians who oppose a bigger role for government in making that happen.

fernando.jpgParticipants reviewed the Institute of Medicine’s guidelines for health care: that it be universal, continuous, portable, affordable to people and sustainable to the economy, and that it enhances health and well-being. Members of the audience added other elements they considered essential. Fernando Betancourt (pictured), executive director of the state’s Office of Puerto Rican and Latino Affairs, added “culturally appropriate.”

Someone else said it needed to be geographically comprehensive to meet the needs of people in rural areas and also those who live part of the time in other countries, as many Latinos do.

dodd.jpgKeynote speaker U.S. Sen. Chris Dodd (pictured) was swept into the room on a wave of enthusiastic applause, with none of the resentment polls showed many Nutmeggers felt toward him when he abandoned the state for almost a year to pursue his presidential bid in Iowa. He began in excellent Spanish (learned in Puerto Rico in the Peace Corps before being assigned to work in the Dominican Republic), told a few well-received jokes, and then got down to business blasting the Bush administration for its priorities, calling Bush’s veto of the expansion of the S-CHIP program for children’s health coverage “unconscionable. We’re spending $2 billion a week in Iraq. We ought to be able to do something about nine million kids living in America.” Click here to hear more.

In morning workshops, participants developed priorities for possible action steps following the summit. They included, “building a sense of urgency” around inadequate health care, developing “sharp communication strategies” that would use non-traditional channels like cabdrivers and bodegueros (owners of small stores in urban areas), and strengthen the organizational effort among key populations like organized labor, elected officials, the faith community, small business owners and health care providers

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