Hispanic Market Momentum

September 1, 2005

If managed care organizations are doing their homework and reading the statistics, they would know that conscientiously marketing specific services to the Hispanic population would reap a rich pay-off. Hispanics are the fastest growing group in the country; the U.S. Census Bureau estimates that after 2020, Hispanics will add more people to the U.S. population every year than all other race/ethnic groups combined.

If managed care organizations are doing their homework and reading the statistics, they would know that conscientiously marketing specific services to the Hispanic population would reap a rich pay-off. Hispanics are the fastest growing group in the country; the U.S. Census Bureau estimates that after 2020, Hispanics will add more people to the U.S. population every year than all other race/ethnic groups combined.

Some health plans are indeed keeping up with demographics and are targeting their current and prospective Hispanic members with customized disease management programs, plan benefit options, and communication, information and decision-support tools.

According to a study conducted by Kolorama Information, Hispanics represent an estimated $70 billion in annual healthcare spending, however, they spend less than half the amount of healthcare per person than their non-Hispanic counterparts. To further confuse insurers, Hispanics' health indicators, such as life-expectancy and self-assessed health status, rate consistently higher than other ethnic groups.

On the other hand, Alvarez says it is not a question of economics that are preventing Hispanics' use of healthcare services, but a prevalent cultural philosophy that says there is no value in finding out if you are seriously ill if you are going to die anyway.

TARGETING A PREVALENT DISEASE

Hartford, Conn.-based Aetna recently introduced an initiative targeting Spanish-speaking members with diabetes, a disease that affects 8.2% of all Hispanics in this country, according to the American Diabetes Assn.

The tool kit, sent to 8,600 physicians, contains an Emmy-winning video in Spanish addressing issues such as diet, exercise and routine diabetic care; "Keeping Well With Diabetes" brochures and fact sheets; an interactive tool to help physician office staff educate Hispanic patients about diabetes management; and chart stickers for patients' medical charts to assist in monitoring their diabetic care. Designed by Novo Nordisk, a global healthcare company, the Cultural Disparity Kit also has an English version.

Complementing its distribution of 20,000 free glucose monitors to members, Aetna Pharmacy Management developed another set of tools for Spanish-speaking members with diabetes in conjunction with two monitor manufacturers. The monitoring systems are accompanied by bilingual starter kits, guidebooks and basic diabetes information, along with around-the-clock customer service access.

"Diabetes can be a silent disease with no symptoms at first so it is easily neglected," says David Valdez, MD, senior medical director for Aetna's Southwest Region. "By giving physicians many tools, we can help them prevent complications with the disease. We also want to improve cultural competency among our physicians and make them aware of specific racial and ethnic issues pertaining to healthcare for a certain population."

Aetna polled its members about their ethnic backgrounds and preferred language, despite some controversy over the propriety of doing so. Dr. Valdez says there would be less propriety not to gather this information because each group's healthcare needs are different. As many as 2.1 million responded with 10% indicating their Hispanic backgrounds.

BILINGUAL SELF-DIRECTED HEALTH PLAN OPTIONS OFFERED

Growing out of research in the Hispanic communities where Cyprus, Calif.-based PacifiCare has a presence, the health plan developed a bilingual English and Spanish Self-Directed Health Plan (SDHP) for small and large businesses.

The research indicated that the Hispanic population preferred Spanish-speaking physicians, customer service in Spanish, bilingual materials, preventive care services, affordability and coverage for unforeseen catastrophic circumstances, "an event that unbalances your finances," says Russell Bennett, vice president of Latino Health Solutions for PacifiCare, a division started in September 2002.

"A growing number of employers are seeking a health plan that will reach out to their Latino employees with a tailored set of services and a Spanish interface at all points where the member touches the health plan," Bennett says. "The SDHP has been recognized as the first fully bilingual SDHP in the United States and rings with employers. Our goal is to support all of our health plan options in Spanish."