Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, Latinx individuals have been nearly three times more likely to be hospitalized with COVID-19 than their white counterparts and are over twice as likely to die from the virus. Despite efforts made to limit infection, the pandemic has highlighted a long-standing issue in America — racial disparities against the Latinx community in healthcare. 

One of the most pressing consequences of these racial disparities is the lack of access to healthcare that Latinx individuals have in the U.S. Despite the efforts for expansion of healthcare access from the Obama administration’s Affordable Care Act, a 2019 study found that over 30 percent of Latinx adults under the age of 65 reported that they did not have health insurance.

“Access to healthcare for Latinos is necessary but not sufficient to safeguard the health of our communities,” Antonia Villarruel, Dean of Nursing at the University of Pennsylvania, wrote in an email to the News. “Latinos need and deserve services that address their health care needs in a context that recognizes and respects their language and culture. We need more than Latino physicians, we need Latino social workers and nurses – and we need ALL providers to understand how to deliver care to this population.”

Accessibility to healthcare and the provision of quality care are issues that have historically plagued Latinx communities, yet only minimal progress has been made to enhance  accessibility of healthcare. The ACA served as the most effective form of legislation to combat this systemic problem, yet the legislation had a limited impact on Latinx communities, according to Ximena Lopez Carrillo, a Yale lecturer in Latinx Studies and 2021-2022 Faculty Fellow in the Yale Center for the Study of Race, Indigeneity and Transnational Migration.

Although the ACA managed to eliminate pre-existing health conditions as a reason for denial of health insurance, it did not do enough to provide affordable health insurance to the people, nor did it target the underlying problem of near total privatization of the healthcare system,” Lopez Carrillo wrote in an email. “Therefore, the ACA did not necessarily facilitate access to health care for underserved communities.”

The relationship between healthcare and employment also plays a large role in medical accessibility, Lopez Carrillo explained.  She continued, “ACA did create healthcare exchanges to expand access for people who could get insurance through their jobs, but it still did not break the systemic connection between jobs and health insurance. So, because many Latinx work in low-paid jobs with no healthcare benefits (certainly not a problem limited to Latinx people in the US), it is impossible for them to treat any health problem at an affordable price.”

The connection between employment and the healthcare that a worker receives is detrimental to the safety of Hispanic Americans, as Hispanics are less likely to work in industries that offer health insurance as an employment benefit when compared to their non-Hispanic counterparts – according to a 2006 study.

While the tie between work and health insurance coverage plays a large role in accessibility, Latinx immigrants also face a disparity in utilization of health resources, even when they have coverage. Latinx immigrants are two times more likely to underutilize their health care when adjusting for poverty levels, health insurance coverage, employment status and health status, according to the study also noted. 

Lopez Carrillo noted that the timing of the ACA legislation affected its impact on Latinx communities. She cited Natalia Molina, who argues that the mistrust of health institutions and the complicated relationship between Latinx communities and medical practices are key to understanding Latinx hesitancy to utilize medical services.“Since the ACA occurred in the midst of [former President Barack] Obama’s deportation program, undocumented Latinx persons feared that the utilization of health institutions would expose them to deportation or the historical stigma that the people using public health services are burdens,” Lopez Carrillo explained. 

Undocumented Latinx immigrants in particular face barriers in accessing  healthcare. About 57 percent of undocumented immigrants  lack health insurance. Even when immigrants do utilize their resources, they are more likely to receive a low-quality form of care, according to a 2015 study. 

While the ACA has improved access to healthcare for millions of people, further changes are necessary to ensure all Americans can access affordable and quality healthcare, Carrillo said. She wrote, “In terms of improving the quality of care, it is very important to create more collaborations between the STEM fields, the humanities, and social sciences so that health-students receive more cultural awareness training. Knowing about the experiences of ethnic communities, getting acquainted with other cultures, [and] learning the history of medical practices in the United States allow students to have a broader understanding of all the existing factors that determine the Latinx population’s health patterns and needs.” 

Already there are groups that work to rectify the relationship between the Latinx community and medical system. 

Lopez Carrillo emphasized the importance of advocacy groups in providing a more equitable environment in healthcare. She specifically highlighted coalitions of healthcare workers, such as the Latino Caucus for Public Health and the National Alliance for Hispanic Health (former COSSMHO). These groups advocate for health and research programs that specifically serve Latinx people. The League of United Latin American Citizens – a grassroots group – has also helped Latinx community members find accessible information about healthcare. Labor unions have aided their members as well, Carrillo noted.