In October 2019, Blue Cross Blue Shield opened up 10 new facilities in Houston and Dallas
HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- Hispanics have faced the disproportionate burden of COVID-19 throughout the pandemic.
Their community has the second lowest percentage of people vaccinated despite having the second highest rate of COVID cases in the U.S.
In Texas, there is now a steady push to help the ailing Hispanic community by not only educating them about resources, but by making it easier and more affordable to get quality care.
People like Gillian Peniche said having access to affordable health care has not been easy, and she's not alone.
According to the 2019 U.S. Census Bureau's American Community survey, in almost every metro area, Latinos are uninsured at least twice the rate of white people.
The survey said 30.6% of Houston's Latinx community is uninsured, which is almost four times more than whites, who stand at 8.3%.
Recently, Peniche said her insurance rate went up and was forced to cancel. She was afraid there was no alternative.
"We have many Hispanic patients that are uninsured, and uninsured completely for many, many years," said Diana Look, a family nurse practitioner at Sanitas Medical Center.
It's a huge problem in the Hispanic community for many reasons.
According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Hispanics have the highest uninsured rates of any race or ethnic group within the U.S.
In 2019, the U.S. Census Bureau reported that 50.1% of Hispanics had private insurance coverage compared to 74.7% for non-Hispanic whites.
"I've seen patients that haven't had any care in many years," said Look. "They feel like they have to wait until it is absolutely necessary."
Sometimes, it can be too late.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Hispanics are 50% more likely to die from diabetes or liver disease than whites.
"We know diabetes, in a pre-diabetic state, can actually be medicated therefore preventing the progression of disease," said Look. "Unfortunately, many patients have either tried to avoid going to care because of fear of cost or just uneducated in the disease process, and [they] wait until it is absolutely out of control."
Also, the environment Hispanics live in plays a major role.
For example, in Houston, a higher percentage of Hispanics live in areas the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has deemed high-risk for respiratory illnesses caused by toxic air pollutants.
However, there's a big change happening in Texas to address the cultural needs of the Hispanic community.
"What is really unique about [Sanitas Medical Centers'] setting, we are making a difference in people's lives from a needs standpoint," said Look.
In October 2019, Blue Cross Blue Shield opened up 10 new facilities in Houston and Dallas.
The Sanitas Medical Centers serve as a one-stop shop for members and those with Medicare. The group offers primary care, lab and diagnostic imaging services, disease management programs and more.
But most importantly, they speak the language and know the culture.
"I'm Cuban," said Look. "I'm able to speak fluently with my patients. That really makes them feel comfortable."
Everyone who works there is bilingual and a cultural connection is constantly being formed, which is making a true difference.
"They do feel they're being listened to, they're being heard, they're being understood, because there is no language barrier," said Look.
The doctor-patient relationship is important in the Hispanic community, according to experts. They said it leads to trust and makes patients feel more open to address underlying issues.
Peniche said it was a game-changer for her.
In fact, a few months ago, Peniche was told her cholesterol was too high, but thanks to her relationship with her doctor, they came up with a plan to help her lower her levels.
She took up Zumba and has changed the way she eats. It's not easy, but she's on the right track.