Report outlines barriers to health care access
for Latino immigrants

Challenges include cost, language, distrust of medical professionals

Community leaders gathered to discuss a recent report. 161,000 residents in the three Kansas City metro counties with the largest immigrant populations—Johnson County, Kansas Wyandotte County, Kansas and Jackson County, Missouri—are uninsured, with immigrants of all origins and U.S.-born Latinos accounting for 38 percent (61,000) of the total. Migration Policy Institute analysis draws on data from the U.S. Census Bureau, county health departments and local safety-net health-care providers.


A recent study from three local organizations reveals the multiple challenges that Latino immigrants face when accessing health care in the Kansas City metropolitan area.

Representatives from the Reach Healthcare Foundation, the Juntos Center for Advancing Latino Health, and the Center for Community Health and Development at the University of Kansas reported the findings of the report at a recent form presentation in Lenexa. The event was sponsored by the advocacy group Communities Concerned for Immigrants and Refugees.

The joint report clearly outlined what so many immigrant families who have had to navigate the health care system already know – that paying to stay healthy continues to be a struggle, and for a variety of reasons.

“We want to use this information to inform and educate,” said Carla Gibson, senior programming officer for the Retail Care Foundation, one of the organizations represented at the meeting. “We need to provide education so that folks will better understand what the state of immigrant health coverage is in our region.”

According to the report, the chief barrier to health care for Latino immigrants is cost. Among those surveyed for the study, 29 percent of respondents who are uninsured stated that cost was a main reason for not receiving the medical care they needed. Of those respondents who were insured, 17 percent reported that cost prevented them from receiving treatment. Additionally, one third of respondents reported difficulties filling prescriptions – 32 percent for uninsured individuals, and 33 percent for insured.

The second most common barrier, as reported by 26 percent of survey respondents, was difficulty in getting appointments. The report also noted that undocumented immigrant patients were hesitant to trust health care professionals “due to fears about the immigration consequences of accessing health care and perceived discrimination.” Specifically, the report said, 64 percent of respondents were “concerned that using public health care services could impact their or their families’ immigration status,” while 60 percent were concerned that health care professionals might share their immigration status with immigration officials. An entire 85 percent said they were worried about being deported, or about a close friend or family member being deported.

While the study provides useful information, at least one official in attendance at the meeting said that one-on-one discussions with those most affected by these issues are vital to improving access to health care.

“We’re talking about our Latino community and what barriers they might have in access to health care,” said Patrick Sallee, CEO of Vibrant Health in Wyandotte County. “How do we engage our broader communities in the public? How do we coordinate with each other to provide as much care and access as possible?”

Other findings of the report:

• 11 percent of survey respondents reported having experienced discrimination in getting health care.

• Language continues to be a sizable barrier in receiving health care. Seventy-one percent of those surveyed reported having limited proficiency in English, meaning they don’t speak English well, or they don’t speak it at all.

• The Internet and social media are major outlets by which respondents receive information about illnesses and health care. Of the 85 percent of respondents who used the Internet to search for health information, 93 percent used a search engine like Google or YouTube. Only 8 percent used online patient portals such as KU Health System’s MyChart.

• Almost half of respondents (48 percent) sought out information and advice from trusted family members.

Sallee said the people who would most benefit from the report’s findings aren’t necessarily the people in attendance at the November presentation – mostly made up of health care professionals and members of advocacy groups. It’s the everyday individual, the patient who would directly benefit from more affordable health care, discretion in the doctor’s office, and Spanish-speaking staff. The big question, now that the report has been released, is how to bring its information to a wider audience.

“We do want to spread the word on all of this,” Sallee said. “Everyone who attended (the meeting) already had a vested interest in these issues. But how do we get the word out about big barriers and work with the community more broadly to solve these problems?”

Gibson said she agreed that the wider community must receive this information, and that it mustn’t simply remain with the audience members who attended the presentation. “One of the things we feel is important is to give the info back to the community. We often do studies and focus groups, but rarely do you see the information given back out into the community,” she said.

“Attendee Daniel Frank is one person who said he plans to help empower everyone he knows with the information he received. He said his primary goal now will be to educate others on the benefits of a healthy immigrant population in Kansas City. When Latino immigrants are healthy and taking care of their families, he said, everyone benefits.

“The most important question is, how do we do a better job of communicating the benefits of immigration to the wider community?” Frank said. “When you see an immigrant population coming to an area, what you see is, over time, the economic growth that comes from their very purchases, and lifting the econ in that area. It is not a drain, which is the perception, that they will drag things down. There are benefits to investing in immigrant communities.”

Frank added, “I’m committed to getting more involved in community programs in raising awareness of the benefits of immigration in general, and where I can help with that.”

Mike Frazier, president and CEO of real estate ReeseNichols, which was represented at the November event, said members of the Latino community only want to achieve the American dream like everyone else.

“It takes all of us to make a difference,” Frazier said. “We are a country that welcomes all immigrants here, and we want to make sure they can enjoy everything that we enjoy. Let’s make that available to everybody.”

Andrea Morales, of Communities Concerned for Immigrants and Refugees, said her organization is planning to host another presentation from 8:30 a.m. to 12 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 19, in the KC Chamber Board Room at Union Station. More information is available by visiting the organization on Facebook or Twitter, or by visiting