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Latino Voters See Universal Health Care as Top Priority

La Opinin, New Report, Pilar Marrero Posted: Nov 30, 2009

Traduccin al espaol

Latino voters in the United States see health care reform as the most important priority for the country and a solid majority expresses support for universal health care that includes a public option.

These are among the findings of a poll of 1,000 registered Latino voters, conducted Nov. 1-14 by Impremedia, Latino Decisions and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundations Center for Health Policy at the University of New Mexico, in the 21 states that have the largest Latino populations.

"Health care reform is now expected by Latinos and [is] very important to them. The issue is on the national agenda and they definitely want to see action on this bill," said associate professor of political science Matt Barreto of the University of Washington, who is a partner of Latino Decisions.

The findings indicate that health care reform is now more important than the economy and immigration for many Latinos: Thirty-two percent said health care is the most important issue, followed by 27 percent who said the priority should be the economy. Only 14 percent mentioned immigration as the top issue and just 8 percent think the most important issue is the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

It is the first time since Latino Decisions began conducting this type of polling that health care has risen to the top of the list. This reflects, according to the experts, a sense of urgency in a community that historically has found access to good health care to be difficult. It also reflects a concern for the larger community: Seventy-five percent of the sample has insurance and still believe reform is urgent.

"Even if they are covered, they probably have a family member or somebody they know who is uninsured. Its a population that is very conscious of this problem," said Gabriel Sanchez, assistant professor of political science at the University of New Mexico.

The poll was conducted in the middle of the congressional healthcare reform debate, in the days before and after passage of the House version of health care reform (on Nov. 7) and before the Senate bill was introduced. The survey also found that 61 percent of voting Latinos support the idea that the federal government must insure universal health care, even if it requires a tax increase. About 28 percent want to keep the current system and only 6 percent see other options. High levels of support for universal health care are found in all states, including Florida, where the Latino population has traditionally included more Republicans and conservatives, particularly among Cuban Americans.

Nevertheless, a majority of Latinos in all states support universal health care: these include 63 percent in California, 59 percent in Florida, 69 percent in New York and 51 percent in Texas.

"This is an issue that crosses party lines. It signals politicians that in fact there is a broad base of support for this reform among Latino voters," Barreto said.

Latinos think about family, friends and neighbors when they talk about health care reform as public policy. Their approach to the issue is more community-oriented and less individualistic. "We have seen this in other polls," he adds.

Asked about the reasons for this support, 30 percent of Latino voters pointed to the number of uninsured, 22 percent said healthcare needs to be more affordable, 23 percent said costs are out of control and 11 percent said the system is broken and needs to be fixed. Only 5 percent of Latinos mentioned that they themselves, or a family member, was uninsured.

Gary Segura, professor of political science at University of Washington and part of Latino Decisions, which conducted the poll, says that Latinos are very much aware of the reality of limited health care access within the community as a whole.

"If we found in this survey that 22 percent of the Latino citizens, those who are more integrated into this society, report having been without health insurance recently, then its clear that the situation for Latinos in general is much worse," he pointed out. "But even Latinos with insurance think that universal health care is the right thing to do."

Strong support for the public option

Among the most controversial and talked about aspects of health care reform - especially among the mainstream media and the general population -- is the potential creation of a public option to compete with private insurance. This would potentially be one of the options available in the insurance exchange for the uninsured to purchase. They will be helped by subsidies.

The exchange is meant to increase competition and lower the cost of insurance.

The public option has been highly controversial, especially among those who believe it would lead to a nationalized health care. It has been opposed by Republicans and the insurance industry, which has lobbied against it. It is also a point of contention for Democrats in moderate and conservative districts, who have threatened to withdraw support if the public option is included.

But for most Latino voters, the public option is not controversial; it is an expected and desired part of reform. Nationally, 74 percent of Latino voters support having a public option to compete with private insurance as an option in the exchange. And, among 41 percent, the support is ranked as "strong."
Elosa Ojeda, a 47-year-old Lynwood, Calif. homemaker sees the public option as something natural.

"I think its right for us and for our health. Mexico is a poor country and we have a public program. Why not in the United States? This is a rich country," said Ojeda, mother of three, referring to Mexicos social security program. Her husband and younger child are covered but she and the other two children are uninsured.

The support for a public option among Latino voters is stronger than in the in the general population. A recent national CNN poll found a 56 percent support for the public option and a recent CBS poll put the percentage at 61 percent among the general population.

Latinos support a number of strategies to pay for reform, but their favorite one echoes the idea of President Barack Obama to tax the rich: Forty-four percent support this idea strongly and another 23 percent generally support it.

Another 57 percent believe insurance companies should pay a surcharge on expensive insurance policies, about 70 percent support increasing taxes on unhealthy products such as alcohol, soft drinks and cigarettes.

Latinos are not supportive of taxing employers health care contributions. Only 18 percent supported this strongly and 33 percent indicated some support.

Related Articles:

Hispanic Caucus Troubled by Health Provision on Undocumented Immigrants

New America Now: Health Care Special

Health Care Reform Shouldn't Limit Women's Care

Immigrants and Health Care: Whats Really at Stake?

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