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Hispanic Workers and Employer Sponsored Health Insurance

A recent study of workers in California suggests that Hispanic workers are significantly more likely to be employed in positions that offered employer-sponsored health insurance than non-Hispanic workers. The study tackles the notion that Hispanic workers are particularly disadvantaged with respect to access to employer based health insurance. Low levels of education and correspondingly low earnings as well as language difficulties contribute to the limited access that Hispanic workers have to employer-sponsored health insurance. At the same time, Hispanic workers are often more stably employed than their non-Hispanic counterparts.

The study finds that, once human capital, immigration status, and employment characteristics are controlled, Hispanic workers actually have a higher probability of being offered employment-sponsored health insurance than non-Hispanic workers. Take-up of offers of employer sponsored insurance are lower for Hispanic immigrants than for non-immigrant, non-Hispanic workers but there is no difference in take-up between U.S. born Hispanic workers and non-immigrant, non-Hispanic workers.

It does appear that the problem of limited access to employer sponsored health insurance among Hispanic workers is rooted in the low levels of education and consequent low-earnings of many Hispanic workers. Policies directed at improving health insurance coverage among this population group will be most effective if they are directed at improving human capital investment through education.

Policies that fund neighborhood health facilities for the uninsured may be effective in the short run but they do not deal with the long term problem posed by inadequate human capital development and improved labor market skills. Subsidies to purchase health insurance will have little effect if they are designed to operate through increasing the tax deductibility of privately purchased premiums given the low wage levels of the uninsured. This type of policy is likely to generate a benefit to high wage-workers without having a discernible impact on increasing health insurance coverage among currently uninsured workers.

One major issued raised by this study is that there may are potentially large differences between immigrant and non-immigrant Hispanics in terms of employment, access to employer sponsored health insurance, and take-up of such insurance. How much of this may be reflected in the citizenship status of Hispanic immigrants to the U.S. is not known but is a fertile and important ground for future research.

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