Two recent studies from the University of California at Los Angeles conclude poor Latino immigrants in the state are often uninsured and fewer than expected receive Medicaid benefits.
The studies, performed by the university's Center for Health Policy Research and Center for the Latino Health, suggest that California's largest minority group -- representing more than a quarter of the state's 31.7 million population -- may have less access to healthcare services than other residents.
The Center for Health Policy Research's study noted that 38% of all Latinos in California under the age of 65 were uninsured in 1995, compared with 15% of whites, 20% of Asians and 22% of African-Americans.
"When Latinos do get care, it's more often from hospital emergency rooms or community or public clinics, and those are costs somebody has to meet," said E. Richard Brown, director of the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research.
And when Latinos do receive healthcare "there seems to be a higher acuity of illness," said Jim Lott, senior vice president for the Healthcare Association of Southern California, with represents hospitals and integrated healthcare systems.
Latinos who qualify for the Medicaid program don't appear to fare much better. According to the study by the university's Center for Latino Health, just 43% of the Mexican immigrants living at or below the poverty level receive Medicaid benefits, compared with 45% of immigrants from South American countries and 88% of all U.S. residents.
Lott said the problem is two-pronged: Proud immigrant families don't want to apply for welfare benefits in order to qualify for Medicaid, while the passage of anti-immigrant and anti-affirmative action voter initiatives in recent years has created an atmosphere of fear.