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Lack of English Ability Creates Substantial Barrier to Hispanic Children's Access to Health Care

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Press Release Date: October 31, 2000

The disadvantage that some Hispanic children experience in their access to health care may be related to their parents' inability to speak English well enough to interact fully with the health care system, according to a new study from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ). The study's authors conclude that interpreters or bilingual providers and office staff may be needed to help reduce disparities in children's access to care. The study is an analysis of data from AHRQ's Medical Expenditure Panel Survey (MEPS), and is published in the November issue of the American Journal of Public Health.

"This study points to the critical role that language barriers play in reducing access to care for Hispanic children," said Lisa A. Simpson, M.B., B. Ch., M.P.H., deputy director of AHRQ. "To help all children we need to design ways to bridge this communication gap."

The study's authors, Robin M. Weinick, Ph.D. and Nancy A. Krauss, M.S., both at AHRQ, explored reasons for racial and ethnic differences in children's access to care. They found that black and Hispanic children are at a substantial disadvantage compared with white children, even when accounting for health insurance and socioeconomic status. However, when their parents' ability to speak English is comparable, the differences between Hispanic and white children become negligible. Their results suggest that the disadvantage in Hispanic children's access to care may be related to language ability and characteristics associated with having parents with limited English skills, including differing knowledge about the health care system.

The data used in this study were derived from the 1996 MEPS Household Component. The sample included nearly 6,900 children younger than 18 years, more than 90 percent of whom had data reported by one of their parents. The data were collected during a series of personal interviews with the families. Slightly more than 40 percent of the Hispanic families needed their interviews to be conducted in Spanish, indicating that they probably would require interpreters or health care providers and staff who could speak Spanish to help them obtain access to needed health care.

The study, "Racial and Ethnic Differences in Children's Access to Care," is published in the American Journal of Public Health, November 2000, Vol. 90, No. 11, pp. 1771-1774.

For more information, contact AHRQ Public Affairs (301) 427-1364: Karen Migdail, (301) 427-1855 (KMigdail@ahrq.gov) or Karen Carp, (301) 427-1858 (KCarp@ahrq.gov).

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