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Latinos Have a Stake in Health Care Reform

New America Media, Commentary, David Pacheco Posted: Jul 25, 2009

Editors Note: Lack of health insurance is a growing problem for older Americans, and for Latinos it is especially serious. By 2050, Latinos will make up a quarter of all Americans aged 50 to 69, a reason for them to become more vocal and active participants in the health care reform debate now occurring in Congress, says AARPs David Pacheco.

The nations broken health care system has finally reached the top of the federal agenda. There is a flurry of activity on Capitol Hill as lawmakers tackle the problem in earnest to meet President Barack Obamas request to have a bill from Congress before the end of the year.

Public actions show that Obama is committed to appointing Latinos to important positions. For secretary of labor, he appointed Hilda Solis, a staunch supporter of workers rights and health care reform. And recently, Obama tapped Sonia Sotomayor for a Supreme Court seat, making her the first Latino in history to be nominated.

We know health care is a cause for concern for Latinos. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 34 percent of Latinos are uninsured. AARP studies indicate that less than half of employed Latinos aged 50 to 69 receive health benefits from their employers.

Skyrocketing health care costs are hurting families, stifling job growth and hurting small businesses ability to grow. America spends twice as much on health care as any average developed nation. Yet we dont get a good return on our investment. We need common-sense solutions that ensure access to affordable, quality health care for all generations.

AARP is very involved in the fight to improve access to quality, affordable health care for all Americans. We believe comprehensive reform should include measures that prevent insurers from denying coverage; provide access to coverage for those without employer-sponsored insurance; and provide adequate subsidies so total premiums and out-of-pocket costs do not exceed 10 percent of income and no more than 5 percent for low-income families.

Americans aged 50 to 64 are taking a hard hit in these times of shrinking employer-sponsored health coverage. They have become the fastest growing group of uninsured. The problem is greater among Latinos who are losing jobs at a faster rate than the general population. And to compound the problem, as working men and women in this age group are losing jobs and, consequently, employer-sponsored health care, they are finding it more and more difficult to get affordable individual coverage.

As funds dwindle for critical state programs and services, all eyes are turning to the federal government for leadership and action to improve health care for all Americans.

For example, the current patchwork of programs that serve the most vulnerable people is so cumbersome that millions are not getting the help they need. Four million people who need help paying for their prescriptions cant get it. And two thirds of those who are eligible for assistance with preventive care go without because the process is too complicated.

At this crucial moment, we have the opportunity of a lifetime to fix our broken health care system. Obama has promised health reform before the end of the year, but we need to make sure that Congress follows through.

We will see no benefit if we are silent about health care reform. We pay taxes, we move the economy, and we keep the wheels of commerce turning, which means we have power and influence.

Latinos will make up a quarter of all Americans aged 50 to 69 by 2050. In 2007, Latino workers age 50 to 69 earned a total of $126 billion. Our contributions will more than double between 2007 and 2020 to $303 billion in inflation-adjusted dollars and then nearly triple again to $892 billion by 2050.

With those numbers, you can be sure that when we pick up the phone, send an e-mail or walk into a legislators office, we will be heard. With five minutes to spare, we can be involved in one of the most important discussions of the 21st Century one that could decide the course of our health care for decades.

The fight for health care reform is not one that can be done by one organization, or one group of people. We all share responsibility to be part of the solution. Our elected officials must hear from us.

David Pacheco is an executive council member of AARP California

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