Latinx people least likely in Chicago area to have health insurance, Equity Report finds

CHICAGO (WLS) -- As COVID-19 continues to disproportionately impact communities of color, an ABC7 data team analysis revealed a major barrier to health care access in the Chicago area: Latinx people are the least likely to have health insurance.

"We have so many that walk through our doors that are uninsured," said Lesley Tenorio, a program coordinator at HACES or Hispanic American Community Education and Services.

In our area, equity in health insurance coverage is the worst for Latinx people in north suburban Lake County.

The Latinx uninsured rate is 19% in Lake County, according to our analysis of U.S. Census data. That's more than six times higher than white people.

"The consequences of having a high uninsured population is that particular community is going to end up not seeking care until they absolutely have to and by then it could be too late," said Jefferson McMillan-Wilhoit, director for health informatics and technology at the Lake County Health Department & Community Health Center.

The Lake County Health Department is helping people sign up for health insurance by partnering with Latinx community organizations.

"Just having somebody who looks like you, talks your language and just has that relationship with you, we found to be really successful," he said.

Experts cited language barriers, citizenship status and lack of trust in governmental entities as barriers to increasing Latinx health insurance rates.

"The system is complicated. People are afraid about how much they need to pay," said Esther Sciammarella, executive director of the Chicago Hispanic Health Coalition.

Earlier this year Illinois became the first state to provide public health insurance to all low-income, non-citizen seniors, including those who are undocumented.

In addition, children 18 or younger of low-income families, regardless of immigration status qualify for health insurance through the All Kids program in Illinois.

Public health officials in Lake County and across the Chicago area said there's some fear among undocumented residents about the false beliefs that applying for these programs could jeopardize their future in the country.

"There's a trust challenge for somebody who is not a U.S. citizen getting aid through a government entity," McMillan-Wilhoit said.

Tenorio said HACES works to educate Latinx residents about health insurance options and how much it will cost them.

"We have a lot of outreach and letting them know that this is something that they have a right to," she said.

In the Chicago area, our analysis of census data reveals that the Latinx uninsured rate is more than 16%, or four times higher than white people.

It's not just the threat of diseases like COVID-19. Public health experts are concerned about the stress on uninsured people who are not being able to seek routine needed care.

Sciammarella said the healthcare system needs to be more culturally competent to increase minority insurance rates.

"We need to adapt the system to according to the culture of the people," she said.

This report is part of the launch of our brand new Equity Report, a one of a kind data tool designed to give you the hard numbers behind the racial inequities in Chicago and the nation's largest cities.

It's a way to highlight our ongoing reporting efforts to measure, track, and empower our communities to create more equitable cities.

To view the Equity Report, click here.
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