Community Demographics and Access to Health Care Among U.S. Hispanics

Published In: HSR, Health Services Research, v. 44, no. 5, pt. 1, Oct. 2009, p. 1542-1562

Posted on RAND.org on December 31, 2008

by Carole Roan Gresenz, Jeannette Rogowski, Jose J. Escarce

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OBJECTIVE: To explore the influence of the communities in which Hispanics live on their access to health care. DATA: 1996-2002 Medical Expenditure Panel Survey data, linked to secondary data sources and including 14,504 observations from 8,371 Mexican American respondents living in metropolitan areas. STUDY DESIGN: The authors use multivariate probit regression models, stratified by individuals' insurance status, for analyses of four dependent variables measuring access to health care. The authors measure community characteristics at the zip code tabulation area level, and key independent variables of interest are the percentage of the population that speaks Spanish and percentage of the population that is immigrant Hispanic. Each of these measures is interacted with individual-level measures of nativity and length of U.S. residency. PRINCIPAL FINDINGS: For Mexican American immigrants, living in an area populated by relatively more Spanish speakers or more Hispanic immigrants is associated with better access to care. The associations are generally stronger for more recent immigrants compared with those who are better established. Among U.S.-born Mexican Americans who are uninsured, living in areas more heavily populated with Spanish-speaking immigrants is negatively associated with access to care. CONCLUSIONS: The results suggest that characteristics of the local population, including language and nativity, play an important role in access to health care among U.S. Hispanics, and point to the need for further study, including analyses of other racial and ethnic groups, using different geographic constructs for describing the local population, and, to the extent possible, more specific exploration of the mechanisms through which these characteristics may influence access to care.

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