With the Nov. 15 kick-off for open enrollment through HealthCare.gov fast approaching, Santa Clara County officials are encouraging Latino-American residents to sign up for insurance and are working to ensure all Latinos get the health care they need.
Through Oct. 22, the Santa Clara County Department of Public Health, the Mexican Consulate in San José and private and community partners, will host roughly 20 events where residents can meet with counselors to walk them through the health insurance enrollment process. Free clinics will offer blood pressure screenings, HIV testing, flu shots and even a Zumbathon.
“This month saves lives. You’re going to take someone’s blood pressure, you’re going to find out that someone’s diabetic, and you’re going to be the difference between them having a life or a higher quality of life,” Santa Clara County Supervisor Cindy Chavez said at an Oct. 3 ceremony kicking off the county’s binational health week.
Latinos account for 27 percent of Santa Clara County residents and have the lowest rate of health care coverage, according to the most recent data from the Santa Clara Public Health Department.
Last year, the first year of Medi-Cal expansion under the Affordable Care Act, the focus of Binational Health Week was on enrolling Latinos in health insurance. This year, while coverage is still a priority, René Santiago, director of Santa Clara Valley Health & Hospital System, said the focus has shifted.
“We want to make sure that not only do they have insurance, not only do they have coverage, but also translating that into better care, and ultimately, obviously, better health,” Santiago said in an interview.
In a speech at the Oct. 3 event, Santiago emphasized the health disparities Latino-Americans face, including higher rates of many chronic diseases, like obesity and diabetes. Occupational hazards also represent a unique health risk — nationwide Latinos are more likely to work in high-risk occupations and have higher rates of fatal work injuries than other populations, according to a 2013 CDC report by Baron et. al.
“These collective efforts are aimed at improving the quality of life for Latinos and all residents living in Santa Clara County,” said health officer Dr. Sara H. Cody in a letter to attendees of the event.
Over the past 10 years, Binational Health Week has impacted over 98,000 residents through more than 170 community events and 16,000 screenings, said Rocio Luna, a director at the Department of Public Health, in her speech. What began as a one-week event is now three weeks long. “We’ll probably do it the whole month next year,” Luna said in an interview.