More than 50 journalists gathered at AHCJ’s fall workshop in San Antonio to understand and better report stories on the health of immigrants in the United States.
The workshop – “Covering the Health and Medical Care of Immigrants” – kicked off Thursday with hands-on data sessions requiring overflow seating.
On Friday, journalists learned from Elizabeth Arias, Ph.D., a demographer with the National Center for Health Statistics, that at age 65, life expectancy for the U.S. Hispanic population, despite a generally lower socio-economic status, is longer than for whites, something Arias called the “Hispanic Mortality Paradox.”
Arias also pointed out that tracking Hispanic health and death rates is problematic because the National Center for Health Statistics uses Medicare data which doesn’t allow for estimates of the Hispanic population. It wasn’t until 1980 that Social Security added Hispanic, Asian and American Indian to its application. But David V. Espino, M.D., a geriatric medicine expert who recently retired from the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio, said Mexican Americans more likely to be disabled as they age than whites.
Julie Appleby, an AHCJ board member and a senior correspondent with Kaiser Health News, offered an overview of how the Affordable Care Act impacts immigrants and journalists learned that undocumented immigrants won’t be able to buy insurance through the health insurance exchanges, even using their own money.
Juan H. Flores, M.U.P., executive director of the La Fe Policy Center, pointed out that states and regions will respond differently to the needs of immigrants under the Affordable Care Act, just as they always have. He described Texas’ Medicaid program for adults as one of the most restrictive in the country, saying people have to be “destitute” to qualify.
Rodolfo Urby, M.D., M.P.H., M.B.A., medical director of the Southwest Texas Network, said federally qualified health centers would play a larger role in caring for immigrants.
In a discussion about the mental health needs of immigrants, Cervando Martinez Jr., M.D., a professor of psychiatry and family medicine at the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio, said that drug and alcohol abuse are uncommon in Mexico but occur among Mexican immigrants in the United States. Octavio N. Martinez Jr., M.D., M.P.H., M.B.A., F.A.P.A., executive director of the Hogg Foundation for Mental Health, said that when officials cut the services for mental health, costs are just shifted elsewhere, such as the criminal justice system. Concern over their undocumented status can add to immigrants’ anxiety. So can stigmas attached to mental health care and, in particular, antidepressants.
Surprisingly, both speakers said many people in Texas go to Mexico for less expensive medical and dental care, and that there are many plastic surgeons just south of the border.
For a panel about workplace safety and health for immigrants, Karen Lee Ziner, a staff writer at The Providence (R.I.) Journal, described injuries immigrants suffered on the job. Jora Trang, managing attorney of Worksafe, said that 30 percent of immigrant workers in construction companies are not employees and so do not have rights and benefits. They tend to be less likely to report accidents for fear of retribution.
The final panel of the workshop, about special challenges in covering immigrant health, included a discussion about whether journalists should use the terms “undocumented immigrant” or “illegal immigrant” and moved to less-reported challenges.