Ethnic Californians in Dark About Health Care Reform’s Impact

Ethnic Californians in Dark About Health Care Reform’s Impact

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SAN BERNARDINO, Calif.—It wasn’t something that many in the room already didn’t know, but when Susanne Montgomery noted that she, a middle-aged, white, highly educated woman would likely have a lifespan of at least six more years than her African-American, Native-American and Latino counterparts, the message hit home hard.

Even her half–African-American daughter “will be less likely to live as long as me,” she said.

That’s because “ethnic minorities do not have the same health outcomes as Caucasians,” the Loma Linda University School of Public Health professor said, citing a slew of statistics to support her statement. “That is why we need to have health care reform.”

The health care reform bill that was signed into law in March has many provisions aimed at overcoming these health disparities. A few of the provisions have begun rolling out, while the rest will take effect over the next four years.  Republicans are threatening to repeal it if they retake Congress in the November midterm elections.

Montgomery, who has done research on health disparities in communities of color, was a panelist at an ethnic media briefing here Oct. 5 to give an overview of the new health care reform law and explain how it could impact ethnic communities.

Fellow panelist Dr. Dev GnanaDev, medical director of the Arrowhead Regional Medical Center in San Bernadina, said the bill, while not perfect, was “a very good first step.”

GnanaDev, the former president of the California Medical Association, focused his presentation on how the bill would impact Medi-Cal patients, who form a large percentage of his patient pool. Medi-Cal is the state’s federal Medicaid program, which provides health insurance plan for the poor.

GnanaDev said he worries that under the new bill, the existing shortage of primary care physicians would increase with expansions in the Medicaid program. In California, an estimated 2 million additional people will be added to the Medi-Cal program, GnanaDev said; at least that many more wil also come in through the health-care exchange, a federally subsidized insurance program for individuals and small businesses.

GnanaDev also expressed concern that the bill could result in many specialists turning their backs on Medi-Cal patients in favor of those enrolled in the health-care exchange, which will have a higher reimbursement rate.

Even though he is a Republican, GnanaDev supports the Democratic health care reform bill for the many positive impacts he foresees.

 “Even the Tea Party people, when they completely understand the law, won’t be so opposed to it," he said.

Panelist Scott Gardner of the Miami-based polling firm Bendixen and Amandi released via Skype the findings of a New America Media (NAM)-commissioned multilingual poll to gauge the level of understanding and interest among California’s ethnic communities on the health care reform law.

Gardner said the poll revealed that very few ethnic Californians knew anything about the law. However, a majority of those polled believed the law would benefit them.

The findings are a “wake-up call” to ethnic media to put the word out in their communities about the benefits of reform, noted NAM’s executive director Sandy Close.