From September 15th through October 15th, we mark Hispanic Heritage Month. During this period, the U.S. celebrates the countless contributions of more than 60 million Hispanic and Latino Americans to the culture, economy and society of our country. Hispanic and Latino people have made great progress on many fronts over the years, but there’s still work to do to reach full equity with their white counterparts and to ensure that every Latino and Hispanic person has the opportunity to reach their full potential. And, though the Affordable Care Act expanded access to affordable coverage to more Latinos than ever before in history, ensuring consistent, affordable access for everyone who needs it remains an unfulfilled goal.
The cost of healthcare and prescription drugs is a huge challenge for millions, but access is harder for some people than others and so is the need for routine and acute medical care. Latino and Hispanic Americans are more likely to suffer from chronic health conditions like diabetes, asthma and obesity, but less likely than whites to have health insurance or to be able to afford prescription drugs they need to manage their health conditions.
The Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) that President Biden signed in August of 2022 made great historic improvements to health care that lowered costs and increased access for the people who need it most. The IRA made coverage under the Affordable Care Act more affordable for people across all incomes, saving the average individual about $800 a year on their premiums. To date, 2.5 million Latinos are enrolled in health insurance through the Affordable Care Act, an increase of more than 50 percent since 2020. Before the passage of the ACA, Latino and Hispanic people made up the largest share of the uninsured population.
The IRA also lowered drug costs for people in Medicare, including both seniors and people with disabilities who get prescriptions under Part D. Around 5.59 million Latinos get their health coverage through Medicare, nearly 10% of the entire program. Latinos in Medicare are disproportionately likely to have diabetes, which makes the new law especially valuable since it caps the monthly cost of insulin at $35/month. Latino families that are 1.7 times more likely than non-Hispanic white adults to have been diagnosed with diabetes.
But the IRA doesn’t stop at insulin. Once the law is fully implemented, Medicare enrollees will see caps on all out-of-pocket costs, finally limiting what they have to pay at the pharmacy annually for their medicines. The new law also lowers prices–what the drug corporations can charge–on medicines. For the first time, drug corporations that raise their prices faster than inflation will have to pay a rebate back to Medicare for their overcharged amount. In another historic move, Medicare will finally be able to negotiate prices on some of the most high price drugs in Part D. The federal government recently announced the first ten prescription drugs that will have lower negotiated prices, and all of the Big Pharma corporations who manufacture those drugs have agreed to come to the negotiating table.
These developments are good news for Latino and Hispanic people in our country, but in some states, not all the news is so good. While we’re expanding access to some kinds of healthcare, we’re denying access to other fundamental aspects of healthcare that millions of people need.
After the Supreme Court struck down Roe v. Wade in June of 2022, 21 states have enacted complete or partial abortion bans with legislation in 5 more states being blocked or challenged in the courts. Now, new research from the National Partnership for Women and Families and the Latina Institute shows that 6.7 million Latinas – 43 percent of all Latinas ages 15-49 – live in states that have or are likely to implement abortion bans. In fact, Latinas represent the largest group of women of color impacted by current or likely state bans. More than 3 million of the Latinas in these states are economically insecure, making it more difficult or outright impossible to access abortion care by traveling across state lines. This restriction to a safe and necessary healthcare procedure puts Latinas at risk, especially given the disparities Hispanic communities already face when it comes to accessing basic health care, including contraception.
Moreover, denying people access to abortion has lifelong negative consequences for their economic security, their health and the health of their other children. Latinas, who are more likely to work in low-wage jobs, more likely to lack health coverage and more likely to face complications in birth and to have chronic disease, need better access to the full range of reproductive health options, not restrictions and bans that take away control over their own destinies and put health at risk.