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June 16, 2001

Due to a lack of awareness, the elderly Latino residents of Los Angeles are seriously under-enrolled in Medicare, according to a recent study. The study was conducted in a joint project involving the UCLA Center for the Study of Latino Health & Culture and the Edward R. Roybal Institute for Applied Gerontology at California State University, Los Angeles.

Study Findings Reveal Urgent Need for Program Education

Elderly Latinos are behind other groups when it comes to accessing Medicare benefits. The "Latino Elderly and Medicare Coverage" study found that only 71% of the Latino immigrant population in Los Angeles is enrolled in Medicare. By comparison, 95% of the non-Hispanic White population and 89% of U.S.-born Latinos have registered for Medicare benefits.

Of the non-Medicare registered Latino immigrant population, 14% rely on Medi-Cal exclusively as a source of coverage while 11% report to be without any form of insurance coverage.

Demonstrating a dire financial need, the study revealed that nearly one-third (35%) of U.S.-born Latinos and more than half (52%) of the Latino immigrant elderly receive less than $10,000 a year in income.

"Many Latino elderly in Los Angeles are at a serious financial risk for rising medical care costs," commented David E. Hayes-Bautista, lead researcher and director of the Center for the Study of Latino Health and Culture at the UCLA School of Medicine. "People need to know that federal assistance is available."

Affirming the importance of a Spanish-language program to reach this group, the survey also found that nearly two-thirds of Latino elderly (63%) are immigrants, 86% of whom use Spanish as their primary language. One-third of U.S.-born Latinos also report Spanish as their preferred language.

Lack of Awareness To Blame for Low Enrollment

In general, it has been found that Latinos under-utilize public assistance programs of all types. Primary reasons given by the Latino immigrant elderly for not enrolling in the Medicare program are as follows:

* 42% mistakenly believe that naturalized citizenship is a prerequisite for eligibility. Legal permanent residents are eligible for Medicare coverage

* 24% said they did not know about Medicare coverage

* Although Medicare is not a welfare program, 13% of respondents misperceive it as such and as a result, are reluctant to enroll

* 11% found the application process too daunting and did not know how to complete the process

The survey projects that by the year 2002, there will be an estimated 53,556 Latino elderly not enrolled in Medicare, 80% of which will be immigrant Latino elderly.

"There is an urgent need to communicate the facts about Medicare benefits," added Gustavo Valdespino, senior vice president, operations in Southern California for Tenet HealthSystem, sponsor of the survey. "Not only will this benefit the individual and the community, but it will also assist health care providers and institutions to be reimbursed for services provided."

About The Study

The 1997 survey, funded by the California Department of Health Services and the National Immunization Program of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, sampled 602 Hispanic and 577 non-Hispanic White elderly. The population-based, random digital dial telephone survey was conducted in two large target areas of Los Angeles County.

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