CHICAGO – One of the most important topics discussed during the National Council of La Raza’s (NCLR) four-day conference here July 25-28 was the overall need for health care reform and how the lack of medical coverage impacts low-income families in general and the Latino and immigrant community in particular.

Speaking at a July 26 town hall, “A Pound of Cure: The Role of Prevention in the Health Care Reform Debate,” U.S. Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis said President Barack Obama’s administration is doing all that it takes to move the critical debate forward.

In her address Solis stated she is very proud to serve under Obama’s historic administration, proud to be serving her country and proud to be the U.S. Secretary of Labor.

Solis specifically thanked the NCLR and the Latino community in general for helping her get through the very tough period during her confirmation hearings.

She talked about the U.S. economy noting the recovery act passed by the Obama administration earlier this year, which has begun to create a sense of financial stability for the country, she said. The current economic problems, the worst since the Great Depression, she said, were many years in the making and correcting them wouldn’t be solved over night.

Solis affirmed that she along with the Obama administration is committed to working with Congress to confront the economic crisis, which continues to have an effect on every person living in the U.S. today.

“We will not be satisfied until we see a robust economy that provides good jobs and a secure and sustainable environment,” said Solis.

Solis said working people deserve quality jobs that protect workers from unjust labor practices. Ensuring high workplace standards including preventative measures that aim to keep the American workforce safe and secure is a top priority, she said.

“Protecting all workers and especially those on the front lines in the health care industry is our main concern.”

Solis added the current health care debate and how the industry directly affects Latinos is a major concern.

Much still needs to be done in order to change the under-representation of Latinos in the professional health care industry as a whole, she said. No community should be left out when it comes to medical coverage or equal opportunities in this field, she said.

The Latino population is one of the fastest growing communities in the American workforce and they, like many others, are the ones who continue to lack affordable health care, she said.

Nearly 15 million Latinos are uninsured in the U.S., and Latino immigrants, at 58 percent, are much more likely to go without medical coverage, she added.

“These numbers are not acceptable,” said Solis.

“President Obama has made a strong commitment to provide health care to all Americans,” added Solis.

“Reform is not just about the 46 million uninsured. It’s about all Americans, including the unemployed and small business owners.”

Everyone deserves the chance to receive affordable and adequate health care, Solis said.

Solis said the stakes were high and it would take everyone united to get the job done.

“It would be disastrous if we don’t move forward. People need to visit, call and write their congressional legislators and urge them that we need to stand together on this.”

On the panel several notable speakers echoed Solis’s urgent call for action highlighting different areas of how the current question of health care reform impacts all. The panel included key stakeholders in the current debate weighing in on important proposals. Each speaker answered questions about how health care reform concerns all working class communities, Latinos and immigrants. Innovative methods to expand coverage while focusing on prevention and diminishing health disparities were presented.

AARP President Jennie Chin said her organization was founded 50 years ago due to the lack of health care for seniors. “This fight is still very relevant today among those who are the most vulnerable,” she said.

Mary Medina, board member with the National Forum for Latino Healthcare Executives said her primary focus is to ensure that underrepresented voices like the Latino community get heard at hospital boardrooms. Latinos need to be represented at governing hospital board rooms to not only ensure health care accessibility but also that they are involved in the decision-making processes, she said.

Miguel Palacio, associate director with the Association House of Chicago added that community led grass roots education programs must begin at the local level. Local health care initiatives should also be implemented such as community based participatory research in order to promote wellness and good health, he said.

Dr. Garth Graham, deputy assistant secretary with the Office of Minority Health and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services said two main landmark pieces of legislation have been passed regarding health under Obama. Tobacco control and the
American Recovery Reinvestment Act will be instrumental in making a major impact on the well being of all Americans, he said.

Graham also said work is currently being done to revolutionize how patients’ medical records and prescription orders are stored through digitalization in the form of an ATM card.

Speakers on the panel said preventing diabetes, asthma, heart disease and other concerns that are prominent in low-income communities, especially in people of color could see major improvements if health care coverage were expanded.

Incorporating prevention strategies into health care reform as well as improving health equity for Latinos, other racial and ethnic minorities including low-income white communities will be an essential part of making health care in the U.S. affordable and accessible for all, panelists stressed.