David Ferreira of the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce says the flaws of the current healthcare system put employers in an uncomfortable position.
"They are thinking in the back of their mind before they hire somebody: 'Is this going to be a healthy person?' " Ferreira, the chamber's vice president for government relations, told HispanicBusiness Magazine. "That factors into their decision. And we don't want employers having to go down that road."
Small businesses, he added, spend on average 18 percent more than large businesses on the same benefit plans, because the large businesses are able to essentially buy in bulk.
To bring relief to small businesses, the U.S. Hispanic Chamber advocates allowing businesses with fewer than 100 employees to band together to pool their resources in an effort to lower risk and premium payments.
Then, there is the plight of the individual. As costs continue to escalate, so too does the number of uninsured Americans, which currently stands at 46 million. Again, hardest hit are Hispanics, who, though they constitute just 15 percent of the total U.S. population, make up a full one-third of the entire uninsured population. One in four uninsured Americans are Hispanic children.
"Hispanics have the worst record in terms of the health disparity report," said Elena Rios, president and CEO of Washington, D.C.-based National Hispanic Medical Association. "We have the most to gain in terms of health reform."
In the nation's capital, healthcare is becoming a top hot-button issue. Recent months have seen a spate of competing bills, including ones from U.S. Sen. Ted Kennedy (D- Mass.), U.S. Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mo.) and a group of Democrats in the House of Representatives.
As of mid-June, most of the bills' major bullets point in the same direction: The three would require all individuals to obtain health insurance or face penalty taxes, and all three would significantly expand the size of Medicaid, which currently serves 60 million Americans. Two of the three bills would include a new public option, with the exception of the more Republican-friendly Baucus bill, which would instead create a nonprofit option.
Because these three pieces of legislation are all preliminary -- and subject to drastic revisions -- many business executives in the healthcare industry are reluctant to endorse one over the other. The situation is further complicated in California, where the near-bankrupt state is looking to cut funding to healthcare entities.
With California facing a historic $24 billion budget gap, statewide retrenchments are imminent.
For instance, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has proposed eliminating the Healthy Families Program, taking away healthcare insurance for 942,000 low-income children not covered by Medi-Cal, which is the state's version of Medicaid.
Altamed Health Services
"I'm very concerned about the health of our healthcare system," said Castulo de la Rocha, CEO of AltaMed Health Services, the No. 1 Hispanic-run nonprofit company. "We recognize we need to tighten our belt a bit, but let's not be foolish by dismantling the safety net."
The 40-year-old AltaMed runs a network of community health centers, which provide primary and preventive care to people regardless of their income, even if they are without insurance. Nearly half of the 18 million people served by these centers are Hispanic, Mr. de la Rocha said.
Patients pay on a sliding scale, and the federal government picks up much of the tab.
In 2008 alone, AltaMed's revenues swelled 23 percent, to $109 million. This allowed the Los Angeles-based organization to open six new clinics in the Orange County and Los Angeles areas, expanding its footprint to 48 sites throughout Southern California.
Mr. de la Rocha said this growth is largely the result of not only his company's long-term planning efforts, but also the federal government.
"We saw more growth during the Bush administration than any administration prior," he told HispanicBusiness Magazine.
Indeed, between 2001 and 2006, Bush boosted federal funding for the health centers to nearly $2 billion in 2007 from a little more than $1 billion in 2001. During that time, the number of patients treated at community health centers rose by 50 percent.
Three major healthcare reform bills aim to continue this expansion. Thus far, all three propose quadrupling the number of community health centers across the country, from the current 1,100 to 4,800.
"It would really mean we would be able to provide services for somewhere in the neighborhood of 45 (million) to 50 million people," Mr. de la Rocha said.
Posting the largest growth in 2008 was Long Beach, Calif.-based Molina Healthcare, a network of for-profit hospitals serving poor people with Medicaid and Medicare in 10 states, and the second-largest Hispanic-owned business in the nation. Molina saw its revenues skyrocket in one year by nearly a quarter, to $3.1 billion. This boosted the publicly traded company's standing on the Fortune 1000 list, from No. 778 a year ago to 673 today.
As for healthcare reform, Dr. Michael Siegel, the company's vice president, told HispanicBusiness Magazine that the company supports universal coverage, though he said he is wary of a health-care-for-all plan that is operated by the government.
"That could create an unfair advantage for the government," he said. "The government could dictate prices that they would pay for drugs or hospital care or outpatient care, which would be far below what any private company could dictate and negotiate. ... We think competition benefits all of us."
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