Forum Seeks to Increase Insured, Expand Cross-Border Health Coverage

Forum Seeks to Increase Insured, Expand Cross-Border Health Coverage

NHMA to Brief Senate Republicans on Ways to Provide Health Care to Families on Both Sides of the U.S.-Mexico Border


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Washington, DC–(HISPANIC PR WIRE)–February 2, 2005–Sickness knows no borders and neither should health insurance and care for Hispanics and Mexicans, says the National Hispanic Medical Association (NHMA), which is sponsoring a forum on decreasing the number of uninsured and increasing access to health care in the United States and Mexico, Feb. 4.

“Access to affordable health insurance is just good policy, no matter what side of the border you live in,” said Dr. Elena Rios, president of NHMA. “This forum is a mechanism to expand the safety net and increase the number of insured Americans, thus increasing the number of paying patients for doctors and decreasing the toll on society.”

The one-day forum will be held from 8:30 a.m. to 3 p.m., Friday, Feb. 4, at the Dirksen Senate Office Building, Room 428, in Washington, D.C.

“U.S.-Mexico Binational Health Insurance” forum will brief the U.S. Senate Republican Task Force on Health Care Costs and the Uninsured. It will examine the state of U.S.-Mexico cross-border health insurance and how laws should change so workers who have health insurance in one country can also cover their families in another country.

“In its work examining health care costs and the uninsured, the Senate Republican Task Force on Health Care Costs and the Uninsured determined that a substantial portion of the uninsured are Hispanics, many of whom are employed and yet need access to affordable health insurance coverage,” said Sen. Judd Gregg (R-NH), Chairman of the Senate Republican Task Force on Health Care Costs and the Uninsured. “The Task Force identified a number of proposals that might address this situation and is proud to work with NHMA and its doctors to further develop these affordable health insurance proposals.”

The forum is also being sponsored by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the California Endowment, the U.S.-Mexico Border Health Commission and Blue Cross of California. The participants – including U.S. and Mexican officials, employers, physicians, unions and officials from Arizona, California, New Mexico and Texas – will address federal, state and regulation issues to strategically expand coverage across the border. The Department of Labor will discuss the role of U.S. labor laws in making insurance accessible across the border.

Lack of insurance is a major barrier to access to health services and contributes to Hispanics’ lower quality of life. The forum aims to build on programs that already exist and to advance policy recommendations on U.S.-Mexico binational health insurance to decrease the number of uninsured and increase access to health care in both countries.

About 45 million Americans – or 15 percent – don’t have health insurance. In 2003, 13.2 million Hispanics lacked health insurance – 1 in 3 Hispanic Americans – an uninsured rate 200 percent higher than for non-Hispanic whites. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 67 percent of Hispanics are of Mexican descent.

“There are scores of first, second and third generations of Americans and Mexican who travel across the border daily,” said Rios of NHMA, a nonprofit organization representing licensed Hispanic physicians in the United States. “Health doesn’t begin at one border and end at another. Sickness knows no borders.”

The Republican task force was appointed by Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-TN) in 2003 to address rising costs and enhance access to affordable health care and insurance; target insurance assistance to those who need it most; strengthen the safety net of care; build on what works well; and empower the health care consumer.

“We’re trying to increase the opportunities for private health insurance that is affordable and available to everyone in the family,” Rios said. “Mexico also can benefit because U.S. insurance companies could provide more affordable insurance programs in Mexico that’ll complement existing programs.”

Responding to the increase of Mexicans in the United States, for example, some insurers offer cross-border insurance that covers workers in California and their families in Mexico. For example, about 50,000 people cross the border from Tijuana daily to work in San Diego. Other border states in the U.S. are looking at similar programs.

The forum will address doctors’ concerns – such as licensing, quality of care, patient safety and privacy information between the nations – and seek to develop physician networks.

“Cross-border health insurance is good for travelers, families, students, people who work in one country and live in another, residents of border states, migrant workers and Americans and Mexicans alike,” Rios said. “The costs of uninsurance are tremendous.”

Advances in medical technology are not reaching millions of Americans who lack health insurance, an access gap that is costing the United States $1.1 billion a year, according to a report by the Commonwealth Fund Task Force on the Future of Health Insurance.

Established in 1994 in Washington, D.C., NHMA is a nonprofit association that represents licensed Hispanic physicians in the U.S. NHMA’s mission to improve health care for Hispanics and the underserved. For more information, please visit http://www.nhmamd.org.

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Forum Seeks to Increase Insured, Expand Cross-Border Health Coverage