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Why is healthcare a key issue with Latino voters?

Approximately 28 million Americans do not have health insurance and more than a third of these people are from the Hispanic community. This statistic will no doubt be reflected when they cast their votes in the US presidential election on November 3.

Matilde Rios is one of the primary care physicians at CommunityHealth Center in Chicago, the largest free clinic in the United States and a safety net for the uninsured in the third most populous city in the country. Approximately 60% of her patients are Hispanic.

It is no coincidence that the Spanish community has the highest percentage of people without health insurance in the country; here we will see why.

Ríos, originally from Uruguay, is a specialist in cardiology and now has more than three decades of experience. You also have the advantage of being able to address your patients in their native language, without the need for an interpreter.

For doctors who do not speak Spanish, the clinic has a team of interpreters to facilitate communication between health personnel and patients. Polish translators are also available, with Poles making up the second largest language group after Spanish and English.

"You can see the change in their faces when they come to the counter and someone speaks to them in Spanish and opens the door and says:" Come on, Mrs. Hernández or Mr. García, "" Sergio González, CommunityHealth medical student and son of Mexican immigrants ".

I started volunteering at CommunityHealth as a Spanish translator six years ago.

Fear of going to the doctor

To receive care at CommunityHealth, patients must show that they do not have health insurance and that their family income is below the state poverty line. Most work, but do not have access to insurance through their employers. Half of them suffer from chronic diseases.

"Many of the patients who arrived are not receiving medical attention," says Dr. Ríos. "They are diabetic and they don't know it. They have high blood pressure and they don't know it. So we discovered the condition and started treating it."

This Uruguayan doctor says that the common profile that enters through its doors is the photo of an immigrant who has been living in the country for a long time but does not yet have a residence permit.

"The people who have been here for years have all their relatives here, and whose children were born here, but the parents are not yet documented and separated," she explained.

They are often people who have not seen the doctor for a long time. González says that people have often not been to the doctor for years.

The medical student said: "They are afraid to resort to medical services in the United States because they believe that if they do not have documents, they will leave a trace of their names."

González said they fear that if they register with a clinic, they will hamper their children's chances of obtaining U.S. citizenship in the future, which is why patient confidentiality is so vital to CommunityHealth.

These people are just about 11 million Latinos without health insurance in the country, a number that will inevitably increase the coronavirus pandemic due to job losses.

"This is an obvious drama. To have good insurance, you need to have a good job," explains Dr. Ríos. "If you lose your job, you lose insurance, and this is what happened to a large percentage of our patients."

"I have more freedom than when I was working in private medicine."
Ríos clearly takes pride in the services CommunityHealth Clinic provides at no charge, including doctor visits, dental visits, pharmacy, and psychological support. She describes this as "unbelievable", adding: "No one in America has free dental service, cavities, extractions and cleaning."

"We have a pharmacy and all medicines are free and we have excellent pharmacists to help us. If the medicine I want is not there, they will give me a very similar one," continues the doctor. "We have a laboratory. I can order all the tests I want ... I have more freedom than when I was working in private medicine."

The clinic is financed with donations from private foundations, companies, hospitals and individuals. The staff consists of 1,000 volunteers: Dr. Ríos and González, two of them.

Ríos began his studies in his native Uruguay, but decided to leave the country when it was a military dictatorship. He settled with his husband and daughters in Chicago in 1984, after living in Rochester and New York, where he obtained his medical degree and began working in the private sector.

"It was very frustrating," recalls Ríos. "He is not a friend to patients, doctors just want numbers." She says she studied medicine because she wanted to help people, which she feels she does at CommunityHealth.

González participates in the "Promotores de Salud" program, in collaboration with the University of Illinois to educate and help patients on issues related to their health, such as explaining a diagnosis or how to improve their diet. “They saw us with the white coat and said 'wow', this could be my grandson or my son or my nephew,” explains the reception of patients of Hispanic origin.

The Impact of Health Care on Ballots

Health, the coronavirus crisis and the economy are a trilogy of topics that will educate the voices of Latinos.

"These three things are related to each other, the other two define health," says González. "If a patient is affected by the epidemic at work, they will feel anxious and it will affect their mental health. It is a number of things that affect each other."

Access to health care worries 76% of Latino voters, nearly 10% more than the average American voter, according to data from the Pew Research Center.

This could be costly for President Donald Trump given his frequent attacks on the Affordable Care Act (ACA), commonly known as the "obamaker."

Hispanics have greatly benefited from the Health Act passed by former President Barack Obama: four million adults and 600,000 children in the community obtained health coverage through it.

But this law was a ploy by Trump after he promised to cancel it in the previous election campaign, "cancel it and replace it with something great," as he himself put it. But he has returned to the election campaign after being in office for four years with Obamacare in place.