Healthcare for aging Latinos top priority for some non-profits and elected officials

04/09/12 Janelle Irwin
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The national Latino population is rapidly growing, especially in the Tampa Bay area. But that group is also one of the most likely to be either uninsured or under-insured. Some studies have found that aging Latinos are also at a higher risk of some major medical conditions than white Americans. Florida State Representative Janet Cruz outlined some of those problems at an event in Town N Country this morning.

“Six percent of Hispanic adults in the United States and Puerto Rico have been diagnosed with Diabetes. This rate is an astounding 50% higher than that of white-Americans. Latinos show signs of Alzheimer ’s disease seven years early than non-Latino whites and Latinas also have strokes at earlier ages.”

It’s a population growing so fast, Cruz wants to make sure they aren’t ignored.

“They represent about 16% of the population – so about one in every six people according to the census – but by 2050, one in every third person will be Latino. Even more staggering is that the Latino population aged 65 and up will increase by – now, listen to this – will increase by 224% compared to 65% increase in white population.”

Cruz said the incidents of problems like diabetes could be associated with the high number of uninsured Latino people.

“Lack of access to healthcare and health services means that Hispanics are less able to take advantage of health services to prevent complications and manage and treat chronic illnesses that’s limiting for healthy aging for Hispanic communities.”

The Latino and Hispanic populations are also facing a much higher rate of dementia. Nancy Parente is a bilingual services specialist at the Florida Gulf Coast chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association. She said that Latino people are 50% more likely to have Alzheimer’s.

“We’re looking at a familial strand which affects the aging Latino community as oppose to the sporadic strand which affects everyone. However, with the familial strand – we see this more and more happening and so within the Latino community, we might visit someone who has maybe three or four individuals in the family at the same time who actually have Alzheimer’s Disease or some form of dementia.”

After hearing about the numerous risk factors facing her, 77-year-old Grace Gonzalez realized she has a lot to be thankful for – she has Medicare. But she also realizes that’s not always enough for some people.

“I have the big fear that if I get some big medical bill that that will deplete all of my savings for my lifetime and I won’t have anywhere to go. I mean, hospitals are expensive; medicine is expensive.”

One challenge facing all Medicare recipients – not just minorities – is the high cost of prescriptions. According to U.S. Senator Bill Nelson, a healthcare bill signed into law in 2003 didn’t help lower those costs for senior citizens.

“No, No. Not this one. This one was going to be that the U.S. taxpayer for senior citizens in Medicare, we’re going to provide them with prescriptions, but the U.S. government was going to pay the full retail price of the drugs not what we’d been paying for Medicaid and the Veteran’s Administration and the Department of Defense. Why? Because the pharmaceutical lobby had the strength to push that bill through.”

But under the new healthcare law signed by President Obama, Medicare recipients should see prescription costs decline. Nelson said that seniors are already seeing more prescription reimbursement and by the end of this decade they will get completely reimbursed. Nelson also told Latino seniors not to worry about what happens in the U.S. Supreme Court regarding the healthcare law. He said the only provision being challenged in the U.S. Supreme Court is the one that requires people who can afford healthcare coverage to have.

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