This year’s midterm election saw an unprecedented number of Hispanic-Americans casting ballots, including many new voters. Pew Research found that a quarter of all Hispanic voters said they were voting for the first time.
While many pundits and policymakers may be questioning the reason for this increase in turnout, the answer seems clear. Hispanic voters, like so many Americans, are being driven by concerns about the high cost of health care and access to life-saving preventive services.
This is a problem that takes many forms. But for Hispanic-Americans, there is no single health issue more pressing than heart disease and stroke — the No. 1 cause of death of U.S. Hispanics. The newly elected 116th Congress has an opportunity and a responsibility to work together to address this problem.
Among Hispanic adults age 20 and older, 48 percent of men and 32 percent of women have cardiovascular disease. Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death for both Hispanic women and men, 28 percent and 27 percent of total deaths respectively, beating out cancer by several points. Treatment, which would address some of the abnormal numbers, remains a hurdle often for various reasons including language barriers, awareness and pricing.
According to the American Heart Association, Spanish-speaking Hispanics are less likely to know or understand the symptoms of stroke compared to their English-speaking counterparts. Over a third of U.S. Latinos are Spanish-dominant, which means the language barrier presents a problem for health organizations, associations and education groups whose marketing and educational campaigns, primarily in English, are intended to help bridge the information gap between the public and the medical community.
Paired with the language barrier is the lack of awareness. In a 2009-2012 study by National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, rates of high-blood pressure awareness were lowest among Hispanics, often below the national average. The survey found the same conclusion for treatment awareness as well as methods to control high blood pressure. A quick internet search of health or medical associations who publish material in Spanish or target Latinos primarily, yields poor results.
Access to information is not the only problem Hispanics face in the fight to reduce cardiovascular disease; access to treatment remains a problem as well.
U.S. health care costs surpassed $10,000 a year per person in 2016, a number that continues to rise today. Once information reaches the right ears — and is in the right language — the last barrier to help combat the alarming rates of the disease is cost. To help lower cost, the government must step aside and let the free-market do what it has done well historically.
MarketWatch reported recently that Amgen announced an immediate 60% cut in the price of its innovative anti-cholesterol medicine, Repatha. The move made headlines, surprising many in the medical community. Yet the company’s move to reduce the price of a medicine, which studies prove help reduce cardiovascular disease, is likely to benefit U.S. Hispanics. Out-of-pocket medical expenses remain a burden, affordable medicine is a sure way to help ease that burden. This move addresses one part of the problem, and we now need to ensure that health insurance companies start to pass on some of these savings to patients.
As the discussion about health care reform continues to make headlines, leaders and lawmakers must understand the hurdles many Latinos face to be better focus on the achievable goal of bringing down costs for everyone.
At the Latino Coalition, we believe a targeted legislative approach, and not a sweeping reform that takes us nowhere, is the right way to address the problems. Democrats and Republicans are going to have to find ways work together, and policies that help lower costs for consumers are exactly the smart and targeted solutions that deserve bipartisan support.
About the Author
Hector Barreto is the former administrator of the Small Business Administration (SBA).