by Kathleen O'Connor
September 2000 - When it comes to health insurance, Hispanics are decidedly underserved. More than a third lack coverage, and they account for almost three-quarters of the nation's working uninsured. HMOs bear some responsibility by virtue of their reluctance to market to Hispanics. Still, the underlying problem is affordability, says Jose J. Gonzalez, founder, president, and CEO of Latino Health Care in Long Beach, California.
"Insurance is designed to spread the costs of those with health needs over a large, basically healthy work force, making insurance affordable," explains Mr. Gonzalez. "But in California, as elsewhere, insurance premiums are increasing because of an aging population. These increases are a major barrier to Latinos who seek insurance."
Enter Latino Health Care Care, which offers commercial insurance for employers as well as Medicare, Medi-Cal, and Healthy Families, the California version of the national Child Health Insurance Program. In just three and a half years, the for-profit company has grown from zero enrollment, five hospitals, and 150 doctors to more than 35,000 members, 25 hospitals, and 2,300 doctors. Best of all, in an industry teetering on the brink of insolvency, Latino Health Care broke even at 900 members and now manages revenues of $25 million.
The company's newest program addresses one of the most pressing health insurance concerns in the Hispanic community: affordable coverage for children. Latino Health Care offers business clients the opportunity to provide Healthy Families, a program in which employees can buy insurance for their children for as little as $4 a month, up to a maximum of $27 a month for all their children.
Created to provide health insurance for children of low- and middle-income workers, Healthy Families enables families to cover children up to age 19. The children must be U.S. citizens or qualified immigrants. Many Hispanics initially resisted Healthy Families because they feared – mistakenly – that the INS would count their involvement in the program as a "public charge" against their application for legal residency. Applications for the program have increased since the INS clarified the issue last year. The state also has reduced the application form to four pages from the original 16.
Kathleen O'Connor is a freelance healthcare writer based in Seattle.
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