2012-07-03 07:05:00

Supreme Court Decision a Landmark Victory for Latina Health

It’s been a long road toward passing health reform, spanning the course of seven presidencies and ultimately winding its way to the steps of the United States Supreme Court this past Thursday, where activists and patients waited hopefully for the court to rule on President Obama’s health care law.

Now that the highest court in the land has said the historic expansion of health care access is constitutional, advocates for Latino health and social justice can look forward to a transformation of our health care system that will provide protections for consumers, better insurance coverage for more people, and meaningful measures to reduce health disparities. This relief cannot come soon enough for Latinas, our families, and our communities, who face longstanding and numerous barriers to accessing quality, affordable health care — including reproductive health care. The National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health (NLIRH) applauds the Supreme Court decision as a significant victory for Latinas everywhere.

Latinos lack insurance more than any other racial or ethnic group: one in three of us are not covered today. This lack of access to basic care leaves our communities unfairly saddled with much higher rates of chronic and preventable diseases than other groups living in the U.S., and Latinas face disproportionately high rates of unintended pregnancy, sexually transmitted infections and HIV, diabetes, cervical cancer, and other issues. Like all women, Latinas are charged more for health insurance than our male counterparts and have been denied coverage for so-called “pre-existing conditions” like prior Caesarean births or experiences with intimate partner violence.

The Affordable Care Act (ACA) has already expanded health coverage and protections for Latino youth. It eliminates coverage discrimination against children with pre-existing conditions and requires insurance companies to cover young people on family plans until age 26 — great news for a predominantly younger population that already faces multiple barriers to accessing employment and employer-provided care.

In past years, about half of all Latino children with health insurance were covered by the SCHIP program, which will be strengthened with today’s ruling. Overall, an estimated 6 million Latinos will benefit from the ACA’s health access expansion. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) estimates that 736,000 young Latinos have already benefited by being able to remain on family insurance plans.

That’s just the beginning. The new health law will also, for the first time, dramatically expand access to preventive, reproductive health care by eliminating co-pays for critical health services like cervical cancer screenings, maternity care, breastfeeding support, and contraception. Over the next two years, the law will provide new funding to community health centers, facilities that act as a lifeline for underserved Latinos and provide care regardless of ability to pay, or immigration status. In addition, the ACA supports language and cultural competency training for health care workers, as well as efforts to increase diversity in the health care workforce.

We believe that everyone has a fundamental right to quality, affordable health care, including contraception. The passage of the Affordable Care Act has brought millions of Latinas closer to that vision and ensures that we can make the healthiest decisions for ourselves and our families.

Today, we celebrate the incredible gains of this law, and the relief it will provide to struggling families. Tomorrow, we get back to work. While the gains achieved through the ACA are a big step in the right direction, we still have a long way to go.

Unfortunately, part of the Supreme Court’s decision included a strike at the provision to expand Medicaid eligibility to 133 percent of the federal poverty rate. Essentially, states cannot be penalized for not participating in the expansion, leaving the federal government without authority to enforce it. This specifically harms Latinos and other communities of color, which stand to benefit from this provision.

In addition, many immigrants will continue to struggle to get care or go without it, and access to abortion care has been left behind. Opponents of the ACA continue to launch attacks on numerous benefits included in the law, particularly on the provision for contraception without co-pays. And anti-immigrant laws like SB 1070 may have the effect of continuing to stigmatize Latinos and creating significant barriers to accessing critical services like health care.

We are proud to have been part of the struggle to make this law a reality, and we applaud the court for upholding it. Undoubtedly, the Affordable Care Act will positively impact the lives of millions of Latinos and it lays the necessary groundwork for future efforts to improve our health care system. Now we are ready to move forward to fully implement this law and pursue additional solutions so that we may fully realize the vision of health equity, health justice, and access for all.

Jessica González-Rojas is Executive Director of National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health.