A growing Asian-American population faces health challenges

President Obama, in 2009, officially declared the month of May as Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month. May is a time to appreciate the culture, traditions, history, and status of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in the United States.

According to the 2010 Census, the estimated number of U.S. residents of Asian descent is 17.3 million, which represents 5.6 percent of the total U.S. population. The Census Bureau also estimates that the fastest growing racial groups will continue to include the Asian/Pacific Islander (Asian-American) population, with a predicted increase to 41 million by 2050.

In Connecticut, in the past decade, the Asian-American population grew by more than 30% to approximately 127,000. Moreover, Connecticut just elected its first Indian-American state representative, Prasad Srinivasan of Glastonbury and also confirmed Mohammed Nawaz Wahla to be a Superior Court Judge.

Asian Americans, no doubt, are growing in political and social influence, in Connecticut and nationally.

But critical unaddressed issues hinder their progress. A recently published report by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, for example, reveals startling findings relevant to the health of the Asian-American population. The full report is available here.

According to the report disparities in access and in the quality of care are common for this population. Some of its findings:

  • Asian Americans are more likely than whites to report problems getting care as soon as wanted (24.5 percent compared with 14.3 percent, respectively).
  • Asian Americans have higher rates of inpatient heart attack mortality than whites (74.5 compared to 67.5 per 1000 admissions, respectively).
  • The percentage of patients with pneumonia who received recommended hospital care was significantly lower for Asians (87.6 percent) compared with whites (90.7 percent).
  • White adults with limited English proficiency were significantly more likely than Asian Americans to have a usual source of care with language assistance.
  • Asian Americans have a significantly higher rate of deaths following complications of care compared with Whites (130.2 vs. 111.3 per 1000, respectively).

Other studies reveal that one-third of Asian Americans have limited English proficiency and one-quarter of Asian Americans live in households without a member aged 14 or over that possesses English proficiency.

Moreover, 94% of Vietnamese, Laotian, and Cambodian immigrants “reported having no knowledge of blood pressure and its significance, and 85 percent reported no knowledge of how to prevent heart disease.”

The Asian-American community is too often as the “model minority,” a myth that has contributed to the perception that Asian Americans suffer from few health issues. Considerable health disparities, however, persist in the Asian-American community, and barriers in obtaining coverage and in finding culturally and linguistically appropriate health care contribute to and intensify these disparities.

While much work is left to be done to reduce health disparities in Connecticut, one should not forget the tireless efforts of the Commission on Health Equity, the Office of the Healthcare Advocate, the Public Health Committee of the General Assembly, and numerous non-profit groups to find innovative solutions to address health disparities in minority communities. Their efforts truly highlight the value of public servants.

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