Health Care Discrimination in Young Latinos

Perceived discrimination is one of the main barriers to obtaining health care services for underrepresented populations.

Perceived discrimination is one of the main barriers to obtaining health care services for underrepresented populations.

Discrimination could be at the heart of disparities in rates for obtaining medical care and in health outcomes for young Latinos living in rural areas, according to a new study from Oregon State University.

Lead researcher Daniel Lopez-Cevallos, associate director of research for the Center for Latino/a Studies and Engagement at OSU, said that perceived discrimination is one of the main barriers to obtaining health care services for underrepresented populations.

The study included interviews with 349 young adult Latinos aged 18 to 25, who lived in rural Oregon. Approximately 40% of those participating in the study said they experienced health care discrimination, such as being prevented from accessing care; being hassled; or being made to feel inferior.

“What matters is the perception,” said S. Marie Harvey, associate dean and professor in the College of Public Health and Human Sciences. “If a person is less likely to seek out services because of that perception, it needs to be addressed.”

Latinos are considered an underserved group because they are less likely to obtain regular health care services and have higher rates of chronic disease, such as diabetes, than the general population, leading to disparities in their overall health and well-being.

The endpoint of the study was to better understand the role of perceived discrimination in Latino’s access to and use of health care services. Previous studies have had a focus on the African-American population living in urban areas in regards to discrimination in the health care setting.

This study, however, emphasized the experience of Latinos living in rural areas, a trend that is on the rise as Latino populations move to rural areas across the nation.

“We have a different population here, so we want to be able to address concerns in Oregon and other states with growing rural Latino communities,” Lopez-Cevallos said.

Costs tend to rise when health care issues go undiagnosed or untreated, which is why it’s important to address barriers facing Latinos and other underrepresented groups.

Prevention, early diagnosis, and disease management are key to controlling and managing disease and are critical components of health care reform under the federal Affordable Care Act.

Approximately 45% of Latinos not born in America reported discrimination of some kind, compared with just 32% of Latinos born in the United States. Immigration status was not disclosed for the purposes of this study.

Some Latinos may feel they are being discriminated against because they are not eligible for health care programs and can’t access the services they need, according to Lopez-Cevallos.

There are some immigration reform policies, such as the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals policy enacted by President Barack Obama in 2012, that allow access to Latinos who were not originally eligible for care under the Affordable Care Act. People who enter the program usually end up being employed, which leads to health care access.

The findings also suggest a need to better educate health care providers about cultural competency, from doctors to nurses to receptionists and lab technicians, so Latinos are treated with the respect they deserve.

“It’s not all on the doctor, it’s up to the whole health care team,” Lopez-Cevallos said.

“For young adult Latinos, ‘confianza,’ a term that encompasses trust, respect, level of communication, and confidentiality, is really important,” Harvey said. “If they don’t feel like they are treated with confianza, they may view that as discrimination.”