Latinos in California face a number of barriers when it comes to health care. For many of us, there is a language barrier that blocks access to quality health care. For others, it is the neighborhoods that we live in, where it’s easier to find a liquor store or a fast food restaurant than it is to find a fresh produce stand or pharmacy. For too large a number of California Latinos, an income barrier means we rely on state programs for our health care coverage.
You can see this disparity in the numbers. While Latinos make up about 37 percent of the state’s population, we comprise a far larger number of those enrolled in the Medi-Cal program – 55 percent. That equals some 4.3 million Latinos – families, children and the elderly – who rely on the state for access to health services. And for those Californians, yet another barrier is being erected as you read this.
The state is putting in place another 10 percent cut to the Medi-Cal program. The way they’re doing this is by reducing the payments made to doctors, dentists and pharmacists to reimburse them for treating Medi-Cal patients. However, as the program is assailed year after year in short-sighted attempts to balance the state budget, those reimbursements have dropped so low that in some cases they don’t even cover the base costs of the medical treatment. Take the example of the pharmacist in East Los Angeles who says he is dispensing a $120 medication and receiving a $10 check for reimbursement from the state.
What this means for the Latino community is that quality health care will be put further out of reach. Our choices will be fewer, because medical providers will start opting out of the state program. It may not be as noticeable in more affluent communities when a clinic stops seeing Medi-Cal patients or when one pharmacy closes its doors, but in Latino neighborhoods that could be the difference between finding a health care provider who speaks Spanish or one that is walking distance from home. Those kinds of conveniences are important for families who rely on public transportation and for whom traveling long distances from home present a financial hardship.
The result of these cuts is already clear: Latinos will find it more difficult to get the health care services we need to stay healthy and productive member of our communities. What’s also clear is that the state will no longer be meeting the Federal law that mandates equal access to health care – if indeed it was even meeting that before these cuts.
Sure, when it approved these cuts, the Federal government had a stipulation that California must put in place a monitoring system to track the effects that the cuts have. But isn’t that a little bit like a doctor telling a sick patient to go home, write down all their symptoms and come back when the illness has run its course? By the time the state tracks and reports the effects of these devastating cuts, hundreds of thousands of Californians will already have fallen through the shredded safety net.
Latinos make up a large percentage of Californians, a huge share of its workforce and a majority of those who rely on the state for health care coverage. We were neither consulted nor offered the opportunity to give input while the state and Federal government approved these cuts out of public view. Now, as a result, we face yet another barrier to health care access – one that will have a tangible negative effect on the health of our families.
Alex Ontiveros is a long time Latino community advocate and the founder of the California Hispanic Professional Association (an all-inclusive Latino professional association).