Minorities' Low Health Care Access Not Just a Money Issue. (Small Business Employees)

Article excerpt

BALTIMORE -- Sure, lack of money to pay health insurance premiums is one reason that so many minority patients have less access to the health care system than other patients. But it's not the only reason, according to Tom Perez, director of clinical law programs at the University of Maryland School of Law in Baltimore.

"Minorities are disproportionately employed in small businesses" that don't offer health insurance, Mr. Perez said at a meeting on state efforts to expand health care coverage, sponsored by the university. "But if you'd stop there and say, 'It's the economy, stupid,' you'd be stupid."

In addition to not being able to afford health care coverage, many minority patients can't apply for public programs due to immigration issues, he continued. Even if you're a legal immigrant to the United States, there's a 5-year waiting period before you can get on public assistance programs such as Medicaid, "which explains why one in five nonelderly uninsured is a noncitizen."

Then there are the problems with the application forms themselves. "Three years ago, if you went to Fulton County, Ga., to apply for the State Children's Health Insurance Program [SCHIP], you would have to swear that everyone [in your family] was documented," said Mr. Perez, who formerly worked on civil rights issues in the Clinton administration. "That discouraged many people in mixed families' from applying for benefits," even though the question was unwarranted. …