World / US and Canada

Language a barrier to healthcare for Asian Americans: Obama official

By AMY HE in New York (China Daily USA) Updated: 2014-10-29 15:10

The Asian-American community still faces formidable challenges when it comes to accessing healthcare in the US, despite the enactment of the Affordable Care Act, which was designed to provide broader access to health insurance for all Americans, said experts.

The major challenge members of the Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) community grapple with in healthcare access is language, and with the Chinese community, the challenges are even greater than most, said Christine Harley, senior policy advisor at the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders.

"There's a diversity of languages spoken within the Chinese-American community. You can speak Mandarin, you can speak Cantonese, so that becomes a question of translation and there's confusion about what then becomes the best way to communicate with these populations," Harley said.

The spectrum of languages across the Chinese community is something that mainstream providers can find difficult to tackle when it comes to public outreach, Harley told China Daily on the sidelines of the Advancing Population Health Equity conference held at the New York University Langone Medical Center on Tuesday.

"Is it through the written word? Is it through simplified Chinese? Those kinds of questions for mainstream audiences not familiar with the community become daunting. So we're trying to bridge that information gap and provide some guidance - here are some strategies, this is what works - and let agencies begin implementing them," she said.

The demographics of the Asian community across the US are diverse and how communities operate in one part of the country can be different from those in other parts, a challenge that other ethnic groups may not experience to the same degree, she said.

While the Affordable Care Act - signed into law by President Barack Obama in 2010 - is intended to give Americans easier access to health insurance, the system is still young and there are issues that it was meant to address that it still hasn't yet, said Harley and other panelists during a discussion on how to reduce health-disparity gaps for AAPI groups.

Undocumented immigrants, who make up a significant part of the AAPI community, are often underinsured or uninsurable. The fix to that problem is unclear and "not easy", said Priscilla Huang, senior director of impact at the Asian and Pacific Islander American Health Forum.

It will require policy solutions that officials in the government have yet to come to a consensus on, Huang said, though it is an issue community leaders and advocates are well aware of.

Harley said that the Obama administration is "incredibly sympathetic" to the needs and stories of immigrants, but "unfortunately we don't have a magic wand. There is a need for Congress to take action and there are limitations" in what the administration can do within its authority that can be realistic and politically feasible.

"I think everybody wishes the situation was different - the president is incredibly frustrated with where we are now - but unfortunately, this is the reality that we're living in," Huang said.


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