When it comes to eye health, minorities continue to experience disparities, particularly in the realm of diabetic retinopathy, and researchers suggest health insurance–or lack thereof–is to blame.
According to recent data published in the journal Diabetes Care, over the last decade there has been little to no change in how frequently minority patients with diabetes are seeking annual eye care screenings. Since 2002 non-Hispanic whites with diabetes have consistently sought eye care more frequently than minority patients; the largest disparity was noted in 2008, with a 15 percent difference between non-Hispanic whites and minorities.
What’s more, at the end of the study period, minority patients with diabetes were actually found to seek eye care less often (7 percent) than they did at the start of the study in 2002. This finding was not true of non-Hispanic whites who saw a 3 percent increase in care frequency.
Without proper screening methods, minority patients are leaving themselves open to the dangers of diabetic retinopathy, a condition in which blood vessels within the eye swell and leak fluid. Individuals with this disease may not experience serious symptoms at first; however, once the condition progresses, visual impairment and blindness are the natural result.
Diabetic retinopathy is commonly found among Hispanics, with the National Eye Institute (NEI) indicating as many as 50 percent of Hispanics with diabetes exhibit symptoms of the condition. When compared to non-Hispanic whites, Hispanics are disproportionately affected by eye disease in general, a factor complicated by barriers facing treatment.
“This study showed that Latinos develop certain vision conditions at different rates than other ethnic groups,” Rohit Varma, M.D., M.P.H., said in a 2010 press release regarding Hispanic eye health. “The burden of vision loss and eye disease on the Latino community is increasing as the population ages, and many eye diseases are becoming more common.”
The increase in eye issues seen among Hispanics is concerning, especially given the fact the most recent research suggests part of that has to do with a lack of preventative care.
“Patient, provider, and health care system factors may contribute to the disparities in diabetic retinopathy screening observed in this study. Health insurance coverage and benefit design may have a direct effect on self-monitoring behavior, especially for costly screenings, such as eye examinations,” the researchers wrote. “In this study, health insurance coverage, with either public or private insurance, was identified as the most significant factor for receiving an eye examination.”
Thankfully, the Affordable Care Act (ACA) may help reduce some of the issues seen over the previous decade in regards to how medical expenses delay treatment; the Department of Health and Human Services indicates as many as 8 out of 10 uninsured Hispanics may now qualify for some form of care under the new health law.
“Latinos who prefer Spanish can enroll through CuidadoDeSalud.gov, the Spanish language website where consumers can go to create accounts, complete an online application, and shop for health plans that fit their budget and needs,” states the agency. “CuidadoDeSalud.gov now supports a more robust window shopping experience. Consumers can see detailed information about each Marketplace health insurance plan offered in their area before they apply. They can compare plans, covered benefits, physician and hospital networks, and plan prices based on household information they supply, all without creating an account or submitting an application. Consumers will still need to complete the application to find out how they can get lower costs.”
Hispanics can also see in-person consultations regarding health care coverage to ensure certain areas of care, like eye health, are included in the new insurance packages.