Latinos often lack access to healthcare and have poor health outcomes. Here’s how we can change that

People suffering from food insecurities line up to receive food donations along Northern Boulevard in the Queens neighborhood of New York, NY, May 20, 2020. Organized by food manufacter Goya and Mecenas (Mexican Cultural Expressions National Society), approximately 1500 boxes of food were distributed to waiting crowds.  (Anthony Behar/Sipa USA)No Use UK. No Use Germany.

The Latino community has been disproportionally affected by COVID-19, with almost three times as many cases per head among Latinos than among whites, and a hospitalization rate 4.6 times higher. But the specific challenges faced by Latinos in terms of health outcomes and healthcare access long predate the pandemic.

Latinos are the second-fastest-growing racial/ethnic group in the country and they are diverse in many regards. As a whole, Latinos suffer from poorer health on many measures. At the same time, they are less likely to have access to high-quality care. Improving Latino health will require concerted policy intervention on both fronts.

Poorer Latino health… 

One in two Latinos will develop diabetes over their lifetime. Latinos are at a 66% greater risk of developing type 2 diabetes, and once diagnosed, have worse outcomes than non-Hispanic whites. Diabetes often brings mental health problems in its wake: one in five diabetics have depressive symptoms. But Latinos are also less likely to receive treatment for depression, anxiety, and other behavioral issues than their white counterparts.

diabetes rate


… and less access to healthcare

Health and healthcare have a two-way relationship. Poor healthcare leads to poor health, which then makes healthcare more expensive and less accessible. The Affordable Care Act has narrowed racial gaps in access to healthcare, but Latinos are still nearly 3 times more likely to be uninsured than non-Hispanic whites.

One in four Latinos have no health insurance

insurance by race

The progress made in expanding health insurance coverage for Latinos is now at risk, because of the COVID-19 economic recession’s disproportionate impact on Latino workers. 37% of Latinos have had someone in their household lose their employer-provided health insurance benefits during the recession, according to a survey conducted in June 2020 by Abriendo Puertas/Latino Decisions.

Cultural barriers, such as the fact that nearly a third of Latinos are not fluent in English, also make the healthcare system less accessible to those who often need it the most.

Policies for better Latino health 

Policies for improving Latino health vary in scope. Some address systemic issues that affect Americans’ health and healthcare at a national level. Others promote community-level efforts that target Latino populations. Here are some ideas: 

  • Expand Medicaid: States that expanded Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act have narrowed the gap in uninsured rates for Latinos more than states without the expansion. 

Medicaid expansion narrowed the gaps in the uninsured rate   

medicaid expansion

Latinos accounted for nearly one third of all Medicaid enrollees in 2018. The expansion of Medicaid would disproportionately improve their healthcare access.

Improving the health of Latinos demands bold policies: ones that both address the systemic issues that all Americans face and that invest in Latino community programs. In the harsh light of the pandemic, this challenge is clearer – and more urgent than ever.