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Report Highlights High Uninsured Rates Among Hispanics, Blacks

By Sarah Abruzzese, CQ Staff

AUGUST 1, 2006 -- Hispanic and black adults are up to three times as likely to be uninsured as their white counterparts, according to a new report released Tuesday by The Commonwealth Fund.

The report finds an estimated 15 million Hispanic adults, or 62 percent, ages 19 to 64 were uninsured at some point during 2005—three times the rate among whites. More than six million, or 33 percent, of blacks experienced a health care gap or were uninsured during 2005.

"These findings are extremely troubling and indicate missed opportunities to ensure a healthy and productive workforce," Commonwealth Fund President Karen Davis said in a statement released by her office. "Minority Americans face persistent disparities in rates of health care coverage, as well as cost and access barriers to care even when they do have health insurance."

The report found 76 percent of Hispanics with incomes under 200 percent of the federal poverty level—or $38,700 for a family of four—were uninsured. Of those with incomes equal to or exceeding 200 percent of the federal poverty level, 40 percent were uninsured. The study also found that 27 percent of uninsured Hispanic adults with health problems did not visit the doctor. And the group also felt the least confidence in their ability to manage their health care problems, with 31 percent not confident.

Only 17 percent of whites and 16 percent of blacks in the same situation didn't feel confident about their ability to handle their health care. And 17 percent of whites and blacks hadn't visited a doctor in more than a year.

While only 44 percent of blacks with income below 200 percent of the poverty level were uninsured, they reported higher rates of health problems, with 63 percent saying they suffered from one of four diseases: hypertension, heart disease, diabetes, or asthma. And while 23 percent of those with incomes at or over 200 percent of the poverty level were uninsured, 45 percent reported chronic health problems.

The report also finds that one-third of black adults visited an emergency room for conditions that could have been treated by a doctor and 61 percent of those who were uninsured reported medical bill or debt problems. This contrasts with the 56 percent of uninsured whites and 35 percent of uninsured Hispanics who reported debt or bill problems.

Racial disparities in hospital visits for blacks (non-Hispanics) and Hispanics are not new. The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality released a study in July through the Healthcare Cost and Utilization Project finding that in 2003, blacks generally had the highest rate of preventable hospitalizations, followed by Hispanics. The study specifically found that blacks had the highest preventable hospitalization rates for diabetes and circulatory diseases as well as pediatric asthma, adult asthma, perforated appendix, dehydration, and low birth weight.

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