If Medicaid loses funding, as government officials continue to debate in Washington, the effects would devastate the Hispanic population, according to two nonprofits in favor of reformed healthcare.
"No one knows more deeply and intensely about the implications of the federal budget cuts than Latinos," said Eric Rodriguez, vice president of the Office of Research, Advocacy and Legislation for the National Council of La Raza.
The NCLR, a Hispanic civil rights group, and Families USA, an advocacy group for health care consumers, joined together Tuesday to mark "Medicaid day of action," in which Hispanics contact their elected officials and sign petitions online to request continued funding for the program.
With a mounting debate over how to cure the national deficit, Medicaid faces state funding cuts up to $771 billion to accommodate some proposals, said Ron Pollack, executive director of Families USA, in Tuesday's teleconference.
Families USA and National Council of La Raza have been trying to convince Congress in the midst of talks over the national debt crises that Medicaid is a fundamental service which cannot be cut. As the deadline for reaching a bipartisan agreement by August 2 looms nearer, many proposed cuts involve paring down the expensive government program in some way.
More than one in four Latinos rely on services provided by Medicaid or its sister program, the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHP), Pollack said.
Because Hispanics disproportionately rely on those services in comparison to the non-Hispanic white population, Pollack said, they would disproportionately suffer.
Latinos are more than two times more likely to be uninsured than whites, Pollack said. While some are unemployed, many Hispanics tend to take jobs that do not provide health coverage through their employers, he said.
In Colorado, 32 percent of the Hispanic population is uninsured, according to a report conducted by the National Bureau of Economic Research, which NCLR also released Tuesday. Twenty percent of the Latino population in Colorado is insured by Medicaid or CHP+ as one of the only solutions to coverage.
"As states struggle with their budgets, millions of Latino families could see what is their only shot at accessing healthcare disappear," said Jennifer Ng'andu, who works on health policy at NCLR.
Latino children in Colorado are 10 percent more likely than the average to suffer from childhood obesity, and almost twice as many Latino children than average needed dental care but did not receive it because they were uninsured or underinsured, according to a study done in 2009 by the Colorado Department of Health and Environment.
In the Denver area, Clínica Tepeyac serves more than 10,000 people who do not qualify for Medicaid, said Jim Garcia, executive director for Clínica Tepeyac.
The clinic tries not to turn away anyone who isn't able to pay, but that has become more difficult in the past few years as the recession worsened. "This is the first year we have had to go to a waiting list," Garcia said.
With such great demand for services and no federal funding, patients are waiting between five and six weeks for the chance to see physicians for basic care. If potential clients are already covered by Medicaid or CHP+, Garcia said he and his staff send them to a different clinic so that they can serve only those who are uninsured.
"Typically, it's the parents and older siblings that don't have any really good coverage options," Garcia said, because children who are born in the United States may qualify for Medicaid or CHP+.
However, parents and siblings are those who probably lost their jobs in the recession, he added.
In the future, Clínica Tepeyac plans to apply for federal funding. With that in mind, Garcia said the clinic has been watching the national debt talks very closely.
Even if the clinic was not directly funded to serve those with Medicaid or CHP, as Garcia said he will one day be the case, they may see an increase in patients if the debt talks result in cuts to the number of people who can be served by those health programs
Within the Hispanic population, Pollack said, children make up the highest share of people who benefit from Medicaid and CHP.
Nationally, almost half of all Latinos under 18 years old were covered by Medicaid or CHP in 2009, according to the Economic Research report.
Of all the children covered by Medicaid or CHP+ in Colorado, more than one third is Latino, said Rachel Reiter, a spokeswoman with the Colorado Department of Health Care Policy and Financing.