By Alice Dong
For Northwest Asian Weekly
The Asian American community has long borne the “model minority” myth which has contributed to concealing the major health concerns that face members of this community.
There is currently a lack of access to linguistically and culturally competent care. Rising costs create major barriers to effective, quality health care. These barriers contribute to and exacerbate health conditions such as Hepatitis B, obesity in youth, and mental illness that already have a disproportionate effect on the Asian American population.
Congress is currently debating the most significant reform for health care. There will be no better time than now to address the barriers that persist in health care for Asian Americans and other underserved communities. For an effective reform, health care legislation must address vital problems of these communities.
With few exceptions, legal immigrants must reside in the United States for five years before they are eligible for Medicaid. Moreover, immigrant children and pregnant women who are lawfully residing in this country must endure the same delay in states whose Children’s Health Insurance Program continues to impose this waiting period.
This vulnerable community critically needs access to affordable health care. Legislation eliminating the five-year bar will not only benefit this community of soon-to-be Americans, but also increase the efficiency of our health care system as a whole.
The Asian American community also faces barriers to quality health care due to its cultural diversity and limited English proficiency population.
Health reform must provide affordable and timely access to language services and culturally competent care. As a result, patients can be comfortable seeking medical care and, once in the doctor’s office, can understand medical instructions.
Workforce training for cultural competency and greater workforce diversity in the healthcare industry, paired with the provision of language services, would significantly advance the Asian American community’s access to effective health care.
For Asian Americans to receive the most appropriate health care, health data collection efforts must recognize that numerous ethnic groups with distinct characteristics comprise the Asian American population.
Many collection efforts, however, group all Asian Americans together, along with Pacific Islanders. Oftentimes, health data reports completely omit these communities. Lack of reporting or combining these communities into one conceals serious health issues affecting certain Asian ethnicities.
To ensure that the diverse members of the Asian American community receive health care that adequately addresses their needs, health care efforts must ensure that data collection efforts include the Asian American community and distinguish the differences between Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders.
Finally, all pregnant women and children must have access to affordable and comprehensive health services. Children, especially those in low to moderate income households, comprise one of the nation’s most vulnerable populations. Making sure that they have quality care is not only the right thing to do, but it will pay off many times down the road.
Health reform that provides children and pregnant women with the services they need will ensure problems are addressed early on and not after health conditions have progressed to a dangerous and costly stage.
The president has said that we all have a stake in fixing health care. In order to break down the barriers that face the Asian American community, we must dispel the model minority myth and call for health care changes that expand access to the underserved throughout our community. ♦
Alice Dong is the health law policy staff attorney with the Asian American Justice Center in Washington, D.C.
Alice Dong can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.