Blue Review
A newsletter for contracting institutional and professional providers

July 2020

COVID-19 Reveals Health and Economic Inequities Among Latinxs

By: Dr. Derek J. Robinson, M.D., MBA, FACEP, CHCQM, Vice President and Chief Medical Officer, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Illinois (BCBSIL)

In the May 2020 Blue Review, we looked at preliminary data on racial disparities in COVID-19 infection and death rates in Chicago and across Illinois. Reports from the Chicago Department of Health (CDPH)1 and Illinois Department of Health (IDPH)2 revealed significantly higher infection and death rates among the Black community, compared to the general population. More recently, the data has exposed similar disparities among Hispanic Americans.

Nationally, Hispanic Americans have made up 35% of reported COVID-19 cases even though they’re 18% of the population, according to preliminary data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).3 In Chicago, Latinx residents have accounted for 45% of the city’s reported COVID-19 cases and 31% of deaths, although they make up 29% of the city’s population, according to the most recent CDPH data accessed at time of publication of this article.4

ZIP code data has revealed how some neighborhoods and demographic groups are suffering more than others.5 People with underlying health conditions – such as obesity, diabetes, heart and lung diseases and immune deficiencies – are much more likely to get seriously ill from the coronavirus.6 These conditions, are more common among some demographic groups, including Latinxs.

The Little Village neighborhood on Chicago’s Southwest Side is known as the Midwest’s entry point for Mexican immigrants. Residents are seeing that the coronavirus pandemic isn’t playing out the same for everyone. It’s hitting harder for people with limited economic security and access to health care. “This is bringing more light to inequities that already existed,” says Amanda Benitez, community health director for Enlace, a Little Village advocacy organization.

Longstanding disparities7 in employment, housing, transportation, education and health insurance availability put Latinx residents, especially those who are undocumented immigrants, on a collision course with the virus and the economic downturn it’s causing, Benitez says. Lack of health care access plays an integral role in these disparities. In Little Village, nearly half its population is uninsured.8 Statewide, 16% of Latinx residents lack health care coverage.9

Health care access is only one factor. Other factors include living in high-density, multi-generational housing and poor environmental conditions, relying on public transportation and holding essential jobs that don’t allow remote work.10 Undocumented workers, many with cash-based employment, lost their jobs and don’t qualify for federal financial relief, Benitez says. Every day, those Little Village residents who are still working risk contracting COVID-19 and infecting their families as they strive to make ends meet. “They don’t know what to do,” Benitez says. “They continue to risk their health because they have no other options. Our community is being devastated.”

Watch this video to see how BCBSIL is helping bridge those gaps by supporting Enlace’s community health workers, who help residents enroll in health coverage, as well as find providers and resources. We also intend to open a Blue Door Neighborhood Center in Little Village later this year to help improve residents’ health and wellness. The facility will offer services to all members of the community, not just BCBSIL members. Programs will include fitness, health literacy and health care classes and insurance education.

Our physical presence in the community coupled with credible partnerships with community organizations builds trust, which is important in culturally competent efforts to improve health outcomes. This community collaboration is part of our broader health equity strategy, which includes innovative partnerships with providers to reduce health care disparities and increase opportunities for all people to achieve their best possible health.

I look forward to continuing this discussion with you in the months to come.

Learn more about Dr. Derek J. Robinson