Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Asian immigrants in the US find language a barrier to health care

So says the Atlanta Journal-Constitution:
When doctors told Byung Kim and her husband that they needed to buy health insurance, they weren’t sure where to look.

They eventually settled on a provider but found out later the policy did not cover some of his medical care. Kim, who owns a small restaurant in Union City, wonders now if language played a role.

Kim, a native of South Korea, speaks little English. Her husband speaks even less.

“There were a lot of barriers dealing with the insurance company,” she said, speaking through an interpreter. “I’m not sure we got the best coverage. I couldn’t explain everything and I couldn’t understand their explanation.”

Kim told her story Tuesday during a meeting of Asian American community leaders and health care reform advocates at The Center for Pan Asian Community Services in Doraville.

The meeting was organized, in part, to raise awareness of problems Asian Americans encounter in accessing the health care system and also to push for greater participation in the national debate over health care reform.

“We know that the current health care system is fragmented and that people are falling through the cracks,” said Lindsay Romasanta, program coordinator for CPACS. “As the nation looks toward health care reform, it’s important that all people, including Asian Americans, are considered in that change.”

A 2008 study by the Kaiser Family Foundation found large health disparities within the Asian community in terms of health insurance coverage and access to care.

The proportion of non-elderly who are uninsured varies greatly, the study found. For instance, 31 percent of Koreans lack insurance (a figure that some put as high as 50 percent), compared to 21 percent of Vietnamese and 12 percent of Japanese. Koreans are also the group least likely to have employee-sponsored health coverage (49 percent), and Asian Indians have the highest rate of employer-sponsored insurance (77 percent), according to the study.

Romasanta said that immigration status, cultural differences and language are the biggest problems.

For instance, she said there are more than 80 Asian languages and dialects. “We don’t share one language,” Romasanta said. “If you can’t communicate with your medical provider, that affects your access to quality health care.”
Almost a third of Koreans don't have health insurance? Frankly, that's not surprising. For many Korean immigrants, like a high number of young American adults, health insurance is seen as a bit of a luxury that is purchased only after all other financial obligations are paid. But even those who want it don't always know how to get it or what kind to get. 

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