The U.S. Hispanic population aged 65 and over is projected to increase by 60 percent during the next 25 years. As this demographic ages, its health service needs will increase.
An issue facing healthcare providers is outlined by George Zeppenfeldt-Cestero, president of the Association of Hispanic Healthcare Executives. "You have a lot of people having problems with access to care due to language barriers and the ability of health organizations to respond to language and cultural issues," he says. A 2004 survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that three in 10 Hispanics experienced problems communicating with their healthcare providers, and two in 10 had difficulty getting care because of their race or ethnic background.
Further, according to a 2004 Census report, 32.7 percent of Hispanics don't have health insurance, compared with 15.7 percent of the total U.S. population (see table, "U.S. Population Without Health Insurance").
These numbers point to opportunities for entrepreneurs in the Hispanic health niche. "Spanish is becoming the number 2 language, so the need for service providers who speak the language and are familiar with the culture is prominent right now," says Ted Terrazas, chairman of Terra Health, a healthcare and information technology company in San Antonio.
The opportunity is especially keen for providers specializing in federal health programs.For example, Molina Healthcare, ranked number 4 on the 2005 Hispanic Business 500® with revenues of $1.1 billion, started catering to a largely Hispanic Medicare-subscribed client base.
Florida-based MEDirect Latino, a provider of Medicare-reimbursed medical products, has built its business catering to chronic diseases afflicting Hispanics. The company currently sells products to treat Type II diabetes, which MEDirect says is 1.2 times as likely to affect Hispanics as non-Hispanic whites. MEDirect estimates the current Hispanic market for its products at approximately $748 million in the continental United States, with a potential market of $1 billion, based on an approximation of Medicare-eligible Hispanics with diabetes.
Mr. Terrazas says opportunities also exist in long-term care and pharmaceuticals. "Healthcare for baby boomers and seniors is an area where businesses are migrating to, and it's a fairly big need," he says. "Another concern is pharmacy drugs – as a population gets older they need more medicine."
But as with other market opportunities, Hispanic healthcare comes with hidden perils. "Unlike other industries that use a business model to address diversity in their organizations, hospitals and the pharmaceutical industry have been slow in opening their doors," says Mr. Zeppenfeldt-Cestero. "Managed care and the pharmaceutical industry are registering record profits for their shareholders, yet Latino business owners are excluded from doing business with many in the industry."
Still, entrepreneurs know their strength lies in long-term demographics. "Healthcare is one of the few industries that – no matter what the conditions of the world – continues to grow," Mr. Terrazas says. "Hispanics are no longer just along the border it transitions into a business need. It is supply and demand."
Activists across the country are working to increase diversity at healthcare facilities and encourage better healthcare for Hispanic patients. To this end, they have produced a number of important achievements, including:
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