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Hispanic Construction Workers Face Health Care Challenges

According to a new report from the CPWR (Center for Construction Research and Training) Data Center, construction workers of Hispanic origin lag behind other construction workers in terms of health insurance coverage and access and utilization of medical care.

“The construction industry has the highest percentage of Hispanic workers among all U.S. industries. During the U.S. economic boom, the proportion of Hispanics more than tripled in construction. Yet health insurance coverage among Hispanic construction workers remained far behind other workers,” the report stated. “To make matters worse, Hispanic construction workers are more likely than other populations to take jobs in high-risk occupations and hence are more likely to be injured on the job.”

The report noted that while the construction industry in general sees higher rates of uninsured workers than other industries, the rates for uninsured Hispanic construction workers are even more significant. In 2008, sixty-four percent of Hispanic workers did not have health insurance, compared to 23 percent of white, non-Hispanic workers.

Almost half of white, non-Hispanic construction workers are covered by employment-based health insurance coverage, while only 26.6 percent of Hispanic workers had the same type of coverage. The report also noted that “small employers are much less likely to provide health insurance coverage than larger companies, but the disparity in coverage for Hispanic workers occurs across the establishment size range.”

In general, unionized construction workers were more likely to have health insurance coverage (78 percent versus 39 percent of non-union workers) but again, unionized Hispanic construction workers were insured at a rate lower than white, non-Hispanic unionized construction workers (75 percent compared to 80 percent, respectively).

Among other findings, the data revealed that 36 percent of Hispanic construction workers reported they have never had health insurance, and 63 percent of uninsured Hispanic construction workers did not receive preventative care of any kind in 2008.

Lack of Routine Medical Care

“Construction workers without health insurance, regardless of their ethnicity, are less likely than insured workers to have a regular health care provider. Yet even among uninsured construction workers, Hispanic workers are affected disproportionately,” the report stated. The research indicates that 73 percent of uninsured Hispanic construction workers do not have “a usual source of care” they use when they experience an illness or medical problem.

Furthermore, half of uninsured Hispanic construction workers reported that they had not visited or consulted with a doctor in the last 2 years, compared to only 13 percent of insured Hispanic construction workers. Forty-nine percent of uninsured Hispanic construction workers also had not been to the dentist in more than 2 years.

“Whether insured or not, Hispanic construction workers trailed behind other construction workers in their access to routine medical care, based on their last reported contact with a health professional,” the report stated.

Emergency room care is the only category in which uninsured Hispanic construction workers surpassed insured or non-Hispanic workers, as they must rely on these emergency services as a last resort. According to the data, 8 percent of uninsured Hispanic workers sought out hospital emergency room treatment when they were ill, compared to less than 1 percent of either insured Hispanic construction workers or white, non-Hispanic workers.

“The data suggest that uninsured Hispanic workers seek medical care mainly for treatment of illness or injury, rather than for routine or preventive care, and many receive no preventive care of any kind,” the report explained. “Hispanic construction workers already face tremendous risks to their health and well being due to the hazardous nature of their job. That risk is compounded with their low rates of insurance coverage and inconsistent use of health care services. The findings of this data brief underscore the urgent need to improve access to health care among Hispanic construction workers.”

The report used data from the March Supplement (Annual Demographics Survey) to the Current Population Survey (CPS) and the National Health Interview Survey.

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