By Liz Ortiz
Good health, and good health care, is something everyone deserves, but unfortunately too many have gone without. Access to affordable, quality health care is such an important issue right now, especially in my community.
One in four Latinos is uninsured ─ more than any other racial or ethnic group in the country. About 20 percent of Latinas have not visited a physician in the last year and one-third do not have a regular healthcare provider. This is why the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, is so vitally important to help all Americans, including Latinos, access the care they need to stay healthy.
Access to health care is a personal issue for my community, not just a list of statistics. I remember going to doctor’s appointments with my mother and grandmother as a kid and needing to translate for them as they don’t speak much English, and thinking how easy it would have been if the provider were Latino and spoke Spanish too ─ so I decided to be that Latina provider!
Chronic preventable diseases, including high blood pressure, diabetes, and high cholesterol, are prevalent in my family, and I know that’s true for many other Latino families, too. I feel blessed to see and treat Spanish-speaking patients at Planned Parenthood without losing some of the things that often get lost when a translator is needed. And the patients are super appreciative as well; they feel more comfortable and open up to me.
I see women every day who have put off getting regular preventive care for many years due to not having insurance. Once I mention the services we offer that are covered, they are shocked and so appreciative. I have also seen patients that were told about the services we offer for the uninsured and are now regular patients.
I try and take the opportunity to do a lot of counseling on the importance of preventive care and regular checkups. Prevention is so important for the diseases that are prominent in the Latino community.
One patient that stands out in my mind is a 55-year-old Spanish-speaking woman who hadn’t had a Pap test or breast exam in 10 years because she had lost her medical insurance after losing her job. When she came to Planned Parenthood for an exam, we discovered a mass in her breast and we were able to connect her to the proper resources to manage her care. I am not sure how long the mass had been there but my only wish was that she had come in for an exam sooner!
My hope is that as more people learn about the benefits of Obamacare, there will be fewer stories like hers, and more people will not put off care. Many people are still unaware of the many ways this law is improving the health of our communities, like how these new, affordable plans cover things that are important to women and families.
Birth control, Pap tests, breast health services, and well-woman visits are now available at no cost, and so are doctor visits, hospitalizations, maternity care, ER care, and other prescriptions. Young people can stay on their parents’ plan until age 26, whether or not they are married, still in school, or looking for a job, people can choose their own doctors without having to wait for a referral or approval from their insurance, and insurance companies can no longer deny coverage to anyone because of a “pre-existing” condition such as asthma, cancer, or diabetes. There’s also financial help available.
Obamacare is making it easier to prioritize our health. We all lead busy lives, and women especially often worry about our families before we take care of ourselves. Obamacare means that now we can ─ and should ─ take better care of ourselves, because when women are healthy, so are our families.
Liz Ortiz is a clinician at Planned Parenthood of the Pacific Southwest.