Declaring that the time has come for Latinos to become part of the solution to their own problems and to those of the nation, the country's chief physician unveiled recommendations Tuesday that she said would ensure that Latinos help shape any national health care reform.
The recommendations, drafted in Los Angeles by Latino health care specialists from eight Western states, include universal, affordable health care for everyone, including illegal immigrants, the creation of a National Commission on Hispanic Health, and a centralized and expanded Latino health research databank.
Similar recommendations were made at four previous regional conferences of Latino health workers around the country, said Surgeon Gen. Antonia C. Novello, under whose auspices the gatherings took place. Later in the day, Novello, a physician originally from Puerto Rico, visited a local clinic and immunized some children.
The recommendations that were developed at the two-day conference will be refined and submitted this week to Donna Shalala, President Clinton's secretary of health and human services, Novello said at a news conference.
"Let us make certain that the future of health care reform reflects the health and well-being of all Americans," she said. "And let us make certain that the strategies that we worked so hard to implement do indeed become an essential part of the national health reform agenda."
Novello noted that although Latinos are one of the highest employed ethnic groups in the country, a third have no health care insurance. Many who do, she said, are underinsured and get their primary medical care in emergency rooms.
Such statistics, she said, led her to convene a National Hispanic/Latino Health Initiative conference in Washington last fall. The regional conferences were designed to tailor recommendations and issues to local needs.
The major areas that participants examined, Novello said, were access to health care, data collection, increased representation of Latinos as health workers, disease prevention and research.
Novello said that health care issues will become an increasingly visible problem for Latinos as their numbers grow. There are 22 million Latinos in the country, she said, and the population is expected to reach 96 million by 2050.
She noted in a speech Monday that in Los Angeles County, AIDS is the leading cause of death among Latinos between ages 25 and 44 and that 68% of measles cases were among Latino children under the age of 5.