September 15th is the start of Hispanic Heritage Month in the U.S. The date is significant, as it’s the Independence Day of various Central American countries—including Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua.
As a proud immigrant from San Pedro Sula, Honduras who now lives in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month not only reminds me of my native land and traditions as well as how far we’ve come as a community, but it also gives me an opportunity to join in celebration with millions of other Hispanic and Latinx members in the United States.
Hispanic employees make up almost one-fifth of the U.S. workforce. According to data from the U.S. Census, in 2021, the highest employment rates by ethnicity were found in the Mexican American (61.2%) and Hispanic/Latino (61.1%) communities.
Like many immigrants’ stories across the nation, my family sought better opportunities and decided to immigrate to the U.S. in 2010. Not long after we moved, I realized that Hispanics and Latinx in the U.S., along with other marginalized groups, face major barriers in accessing health care.
According to Aetna, Hispanics and Latinx members are confronted by three major barriers in accessing health care. On the positive side, these barriers can also provide insights into best practices for employers.
Barrier 1: Working irregular hours
Not every employee can work a regular nine-to-five shift. Hispanic employees make up a large portion of the hourly workforce in service industries, where longer shifts and irregular work hours are common. Scheduling can be a barrier for Hispanics working in the hospitality and retail sectors, as they may be required to work overtime and may not feel comfortable taking time off work.
I am all too familiar with this challenge, as my grandpa—who immigrated to the U.S. more than 20 years before me—worked at a factory. Irregular work hours, often working a second job and not taking care of his health all contributed to him suffering a stroke. Fortunately, he survived and is thriving, but many are not so lucky.
Best Practice 1: Providing flexibility
One of the innovations the pandemic brought to many health plans was virtual care, allowing workers to access medical care outside of their normal working hours. Employers can also offer preventative care services, such as flu clinics, on site. Finally, explaining how paid time off works at your organization can help employees feel more confident when requesting time off for medical appointments.
Barrier 2: Perceiving health insurance as too expensive
The Pew Research Center reported that Hispanic adults are less likely than other Americans to have health insurance and to receive preventative care. Since they may view health plans and medical bills as too costly, they are more likely to delay care. It is important to note that access to care improved considerably after the implementation of the Affordable Care Act in 2013—yet Hispanic and Latinx access is significantly lower than that of their non-Latinx counterparts.
Since Hispanic/Latinx households often include grandparents and extended family, workers may feel they need to prioritize other financial needs over their own health. The first few months after my parents, brother, sister and I moved to the U.S., we lived with my grandparents, my uncle and his family. Having a large family meant great celebrations and delicious meals, but it also meant that everyone had to contribute to the household finances to make sure every bill was covered. Sometimes, a trip to the doctor was not a priority. Now, we all have our own homes and jobs, and our celebrations are even bigger.
Best Practice 2: Exploring low-cost care and education
Talk to your providers about options for offering low-cost health insurance plans to hourly workers. Even if employers are not able to offer low-cost health insurance plans, educating members on how their health plan works and how to help keep health care costs low, including information on in-network providers, the importance of preventative care, financial planning and fostering healthy habits can provide much-needed relief.
Barrier 3: Facing language and cultural obstacles
One of the biggest challenges immigrants face in the U.S. is language: Close to 30% of Hispanics/Latinx individuals state they are not fluent in English. Even for native English speakers, navigating the health care system can be challenging and confusing. Although English proficiency is rising among U.S. Latinos, it is hard to understand medical terminology, which often can be intimidating.
Having the privilege of learning English since I was in pre-kindergarten, I had an advantage when we moved to the U.S. I was able to translate during my grandparents’ medical appointments whenever they could not find a Spanish-speaking provider—which was somewhat challenging, even in an area with a high Hispanic and Latinx population. Many Hispanics and Latinx also do not trust medical providers right away. Immigrants have been raised with their own home remedies and miracle medications like Vicks VapoRub. Breaking away from these traditional and cultural mentalities are often challenging when seeking medical professionals.
Best Practice 3: Meeting your members where they are
Providing health education to members in their own language will ease their anxiety. Remember, not all words translate easily. Taking the time to explain key terms can help your members understand how to navigate the U.S. health care system. You can also work with your health plan provider to gain access to Spanish-speaking primary care physicians, so your members feel more comfortable scheduling and attending medical appointments.
Celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month goes beyond enjoying delicious traditional meals from Hispanic and Latinx countries—like Pastelitos from Honduras. Employers can celebrate their Hispanic and Latinx employees by advocating for them and removing barriers to accessing health care. Immigrants are hard workers who came to the U.S. for better opportunities, and for many of us, work/life balance is not a concept that was taught back in our home countries. Fostering a more balanced culture will not only help us be better employees, but it will also build a stronger organization.
Want to learn more about creating an inclusive environment, tackling biases and addressing DEI in pensions and benefits? Join us at one or more of our upcoming conferences, including the 68th Annual Employee Benefits Conference in Las Vegas, October 23-26, and the 55th Annual Canadian Employee Benefits Conference in New Orleans, November 20-23. And be sure to check out our DEI educational resources.
Associate Director, Educational Programs
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