Study: Latinos rank highest in number of uninsured

As officials grapple to create a countywide health insurance program for low-income adults, a new study released Monday shows that a disproportionate number of those without medical coverage are Latino.

Approximately 54 percent of the county’s uninsured are Latino, according to the report. In addition, more than half of the uninsured have children, and 45 percent are U.S. citizens, according to the report. Most work at least part-time, officials said.

The report also found 37 percent of the county’s uninsured live in the south, including Redwood City, East Palo Alto and Menlo Park, where much of the Latino population is based, said ST Mayer, policy analyst with the county Health Department. “For us it’s interesting, because we know we’re going to have to concentrate some efforts in that area,” Mayer said.

The latest figures show that 36,000 to 44,000 county residents could qualify under an insurance program that provides varying levels of services and costs for families living at or below 400 percent of federal poverty level, or about $64,000 for a family of three.

The findings of the study — released by the county Blue Ribbon Task Force on Adult Health Care Coverage Expansion — support an earlier report that non-English speakers face innumerable barriers when seeking health care, officials said.

Experts Monday offered several explanations for the disparity. Among the factors are language, family history of not seeking health care coverage, an historically higher percentage of uninsured employees in the services industry — where many Latinos find jobs — and under-the-table employment, said James Miller, research analyst for the county Human Services Agency.

Not lost on task force members was the possibility of teaming up with service sector employers and other small businesses to share health care costs, Mayer said. Another option raised by County Manager John Malbie was the possibility of putting a one-half-cent sales tax on the ballot.

Support forgovernment spending on health insurance isn’t universal. “Many of these people make a choice,” said

perennial Libertarian Party candidate and Sequoia Healthcare District board member Jack Hickey. “They could buy health insurance, but instead they buy iPods.” He supports health coverage for only the most indigent, Hickey said.

The task force, which met for the first time in September, has set a July deadline to come up with a proposal to solve the county’s expanding uninsured crisis, which required a $12 million loan to the San Mateo Medical Center on top of $54 million in indigent care costs this year, officials said.

Insuring low-income families rather than paying for the emergency visits could save the county money, not to mention improve the public health, President of the Board of Supervisors Jerry Hill said. Those without insurance typically pay two to five times those seeing family physicians for non-emergency problems, an Institute of Medicine study released last June shows.

ecarpenter@examiner.com

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