InFocus: Refugee and Immigrant healthcare access

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MONTGOMERY COUNTY, Md. (WDVM) – As the pandemic continues throughout the nation, refugee and immigrant communities are having a harder time fighting COVID-19 than others.

Across Maryland, minority communities face challenges accessing healthcare and health insurance — including non-native residents of the country like refugee, immigrant, and migrant populations (R.I.M.).

According to the CDC, many R.I.M. Populations have a harder time accessing affordable healthcare. Social, cultural, economic and legal barriers put them at risk for long-standing health issues and a higher risk of contracting COVID-19.

Tara Clemons at Montgomery County’s Healthcare for the Un-Insured said their programs provide basic healthcare to community members who aren’t otherwise eligible for federal programs like Medicaid and Medicare.

“So it’s about 26,000 that are enrolled in that program,” Clemons said. “The requirements are that you are above the age of 18, you live in Montgomery County and you make 250% of the federal poverty level or less.”

Clemons said barriers to healthcare for these groups can range anywhere from income level and immigration status, to things like a lack of transportation and apprehension to see a doctor.

According to the CDC, in comparison to a white, non-Hispanic in the United States, a Latinx or Hispanic person in the US is 1.7 times more likely to contract a case of COVID-19, 4.1 times more likely to be hospitalized because of it, and 2.8 times more likely to die from it

Dr. Audrey Escobedo-Escotto, Senior Director of Emerson Clinical Research Institute, says these disparities are nothing new.

“I think that COVID has been allowing everyone else to understand that there’s a gap in health,” Dr. Escobedo-Escotto said. “Sadly we’ve seen that these type of populations, they still don’t go to the hospital until the last minute, until sometimes it’s too late.”

As the debate over health care continues in the United States, Dr. Escobedo-Escotto said these vulnerable groups would benefit from better outreach efforts and education to overcome these barriers.

“It’s hard to say how can they address this health gap,” she said. “But they have to be prepared for something new because we don’t know. Now it’s COVID, but next year or in two years, who knows what’s the next disease.”

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