Health Equity Is About More Than Insurance

By Julianne Hing Mar 26, 2009

It was a sweltering July day in the Idaho onion fields, and Froy Martinez, a farm worker from Mexico, had been weeding onions since six that morning. When he stopped for lunch, he unknowingly ingested the pesticides his team had been working with all day long. By noon, Martinez began vomiting suddenly by the side of the road during his shift, and soon the entire crew was violently ill. When Martinez and the twenty-eight other workers got to the West Valley Medical Center in town though, there weren’t any Spanish speakers available. Maria Aguirre, one of the farm workers and herself a patient, was asked to interpret for the hospital. Because none of the workers had insurance, they had a hard time getting much-needed follow-up treatment after that day. Amal Abduhlrahman was just 14 when her father got sick. Like many kids of immigrant parents, she became his interpreter at the hospital. Abduhlrahman was the one responsible for communicating to her dad the procedures ahead: surgeries, meds, amputations. "I would decide whether or not to tell the nurse if my father had eaten that day based on the pain the IV would cause him," said Abduhlrahman. Janet Robideau lives in Montana, where she struggles to get treatment for her rheumatoid arthritis. She gets angry when people circulate the myth that Native Americans have good health care on reservations, because according to Robideau, "most Indian people are struggling for access like other low-income people," both on and off the reservation. It’s stories like these that spurred a coalition of twenty groups to launch the Healthcare Equality Project this week, a national campaign to make sure the current conversation on health care reform includes changes that ensure equal access to medical care, language access, and options for alternative and traditional medical practices. People of color, "even when they have insurance, suffer disproportionately with serious obstacles to the high quality care that we need to stay healthy and live prductive lives. Why? Because an insurance card is only as good as the network it’s on," said Sinsi Hernández-Cancio, National Campaign Coordinator for the Healthcare Equality Project. "And where a lot of us live, the health care network is not just good enough." The coalition is headed by the Northwest Federation of Community Organizations, the Center for Community Change, SEIU, ACORN, LULAC and others. Check out for more information.