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With Obamacare, More California Latinos Sought Care for Hypertension

Californians of Mexican descent were more likely to see a doctor and take medicine for high blood pressure after the Affordable Care Act was implemented, according a study published in this month’s “Medical Care.”

The ACA, also known as Obamacare, was implemented in 2014. Since it went into effect, Californians of Mexican descent in the state have been 11 percent more likely to be insured, about 14 percent more likely to visit a doctor and take medicine for hypertension and 12 percent more likely to have a regular source of care, researchers found.

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Those improvements helped narrow disparities in health care access and use between white non-Latino Californians and those of Mexican-American heritage. There also was a drop in non-Latino whites visiting doctors and taking high blood pressure medications that helped shrink the gap, the researchers said.

The study's researchers warned that “sustained progress is threatened by looming repeals of ACA provisions.” The study was led by Ryan McKenna, an assistant professor in Drexel University’s Dornsife School of Public Health.

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Extraordinarily high blood pressure, also known as hypertension, is a major risk factor for heart disease and stroke – the first and fourth leading causes of death for all Americans, according to the Centers for Disease Control. It affects some 70 million people in the United States.

Hypertension is lowest among Latinos of Mexican heritage at 25 percent, compared to 28.5 percent for non-Latino whites, 28.5 percent and blacks, 42 percent. But Latinos of Mexican descent, particularly those who are uninsured, are less likely to treat and control their disease than the other groups, researchers said.

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Having a regular source of care, as opposed to occasional emergency room visits, “is crucial for diagnosing and managing chronic disease like hypertension,” McKenna said in a statement issued by Drexel. “With a usual source of care, the onset of hypertension can be delayed or managed with relatively inexpensive medications.”

California is one of the states that embraced Obamacare and is running its own state-based exchange – an online marketplace where people can compare insurance plans and buy coverage. It also expanded who could be covered by Medicaid as allowed by the law.

Image: Speaker of the House Paul Ryan speaks to the media about the American Health Care Act at the Capitol
U.S. Speaker of the House Paul Ryan speaks to the media about the American Health Care Act at the Capitol in Washington, D.C., U.S. March 15, 2017. AARON P. BERNSTEIN / Reuters

Republicans in the Senate have been hurriedly writing a replacement law, but have yet to release its details. They’ve been pushing to get a replacement law to the floor for a vote and have declined to say when they will make details public. The House already has passed its own version.

Rates of uninsured among Latinos of Mexican descent has fallen from 36 percent to 23 percent under Obamacare.

In addition to changes to the Affordable Care Act, increased deportations could affect the improvements by causing immigrants to delay care, McKenna stated.

“This is something I hope policymakers keep in mind as they consider reforms to the current policy,” McKenna said in the statement.

California allows legal immigrants with fewer than five years in the country to register for Medicaid, however people without legal status are prohibited under the Affordable Care Act from getting Obamacare anywhere.

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