Asian Pacific Islander community leaders gathered at the Asian Pacific American Legal Center in Los Angeles yesterday to call on U.S. Congress and the White House for a better deal from health reform.
However, while the legislative proposals mention health disparities among ethnic groups, the bills fail to cover the many immigrants and legal permanent residents who live and work in the U.S., but for whom the cost of health insurance is too often out of reach.
"It’s critical that Congress not be divided by distractions and focus on improving health care for all communities," said Sonal Ambegaokar, health policy attorney for the National Immigration Law Center.
She said many immigrants paid the same taxes as U.S. citizens, but many legal immigrants were not able to obtain or were made to wait years to get affordable health care programs that were paid for by their taxes.
"If reform is going to work and reduce costs for all Americans, health care reform must be inclusive and must end the unfair treatment of immigrants," she said.
California State Assemblyman Mike Eng said: "Given the Asian and Pacific Islander community’s ethnic and socioeconomic diversity, understanding the unique needs of each community is essential to developing a health reform that will meet those needs."
Read on for the rest of the article and Asian American health statistics.
Eng commissioned a report by a team of researchers from the University of California, Los Angeles to uncover the disparities.
Key findings of the report show that Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders (AANHIs) are the only racial group for whom the leading cause of death is cancer, with higher rates among Asian Americans (27.7 percent) and Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders (25.4 percent) than for White (23.3 percent), Latino (20.4 percent), Black (22.4 percent) and American Indian and Alaska Native (20.3 percent) populations in California in 2004.
According to the report, liver cancer disproportionately strikes the AANHPI population at such alarmingly high rates that the cancer burden levied on AANHPIs is unmatched by other racial and ethnic health disparities in the U.S.
The report shows that Asian American women have nearly doubled the rate of non-compliance with cervical cancer screening guidelines as the overall state average, with the lowest rates among Koreans, Vietnamese, Chinese and other Asians.
Asian American men also have higher rates of non-compliance with prostate cancer screening guidelines, with Vietnamese and Koreans posting the poorest screening rates among all ethnic groups, and Chinese, Filipinos and other Asians also screening at rates worse than the California average.
AANHPIs in California now number more than five million and comprise more than 14 percent of the population, making this minority group one of the fastest growing racial populations in the state and in the U. S. as well.
So far, the most critical element within the U.S. health care system is the extent to which people can obtain affordable and effective health care coverage, according to the report.
In California, 6.6 million residents are uninsured, which is the largest number of uninsured in the U.S.
AANHPIs in California are as susceptible, and for some groups more susceptible, to being uninsured. Koreans, Vietnamese and Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders all have uninsured rates that are higher than the state average, according to the report.
The report shows that language, cultural beliefs about health care and cultural sensitivity of services and providers are among the barriers to health care access and utilization, particularly for recent immigrants who constitute a high proportion of the Asian American population.
Other financial and legal barriers include poverty, low-wage employment and citizenship status.
"Asian Pacific Islanders and other immigrant communities must take action in order to be included in any reform proposal," said Scott Chan, community advocate for the Asian Pacific American Legal Center.
He called on the Asian Pacific Islander communities to contact their members of Congress and ask them to include the Asian Pacific communities in any health reform legislation.
Meanwhile, in the U.S. Congress, House Democrats failed on Friday to reach an agreement on the health reform bill. Henry Waxman from California threatened to bypass his own committee to speed passage of a bill to subsidize health insurance for tens of millions of Americans.
Other Democrats have raised questions on the costs of the bill and its impact on small business.
If both sides fail to reach a consensus before the end of next week when the House leaves for its summer break, there is no hope that any health reform bill, which is a priority of President Obama, will be passed soon.