Almost half of the more than 850,000 Hispanics in Georgia lack health insurance, a much higher rate than the national average, a new report...

Almost half of the more than 850,000 Hispanics in Georgia lack health insurance, a much higher rate than the national average, a new report finds.

The Georgia Latino Health Report 2012, released Thursday, says 47 percent of Hispanics in the state are uninsured, versus 31 percent nationally. And just 29 percent in Georgia have employer-sponsored health insurance, as compared with 37 percent in the U.S.

The insurance gap may be linked, in part, to the concentration of Georgia’s Hispanics in the construction and service industries — sectors that often don’t offer coverage to employees, said Karen Andes of Emory’s Rollins School of Public Health, and lead author of the Latino health report.

The report, released at the Latino Health Summit held at Emory, is the most comprehensive look yet at the Latino population and its health status in Georgia. The summit was sponsored by the Hispanic Health Coalition of Georgia.

A major shift in Latino health care occurred after the recession began, the report said. Many Latinos work in industries deeply hurt by the downturn. In addition, Georgia’s new immigration law has discouraged immigrants from seeking medical treatment, the report said.

The population of Hispanics in Georgia has grown eightfold since 1990, though that increase slowed in the past decade, the Latino health report found. Hispanics represented 8.8 percent of the state’s population in 2010.

“This is a population we can’t continue to ignore,’’ Andes said. Fifty-eight percent of Latinos in Georgia are U.S. citizens. And 87 percent of Hispanic children are citizens, the report found.

Their health status is worse than that of their white and black peers in several categories.

Hispanic children and adolescents in Georgia have poorer oral health and higher rates of obesity, and show higher levels of depression, the report says. Hispanic girls have higher rates of teenage pregnancy.

Latinos overall have higher rates of cervical cancer, chlamydia and syphilis, and of tuberculosis and pertussis. Hispanic women receive prenatal care less frequently.

The health disparities must be reduced, said Dr. Carlos del Rio, chairman of the Hubert Department of Global Health at the Emory School of Public Health. “We have to address other disparities’’ in income and education’’ added del Rio, also professor of medicine at the Emory School of Medicine.

The new immigration law in Georgia, he said, has created “so much discrimination and fear of being stopped by police.’’

Georgia passed a tough immigration legislation last year that empowers local police officers to question certain suspects about their immigration status.

The Latino health report also found almost two-thirds of Hispanic children in Georgia live in “mixed nativity’’ households, meaning they are U.S.-born but their parents are foreign-born.

“Poverty has increased substantially among Hispanics,’’ Andes added. Hispanics also are much less likely to have a high school diploma.

Many uninsured Hispanics get medical services at clinics and private doctors’ offices, but frequently it’s only when they get sick, and is not regular primary care, said Dr. Flavia Mercado, medical director of the International Medical Center at Grady, and chair of the Hispanic Health Coalition of Georgia.

Youth should be a focus for improving Latino health, she said. “If we can keep our youth healthy, and expose them to health careers, we’ll solve a lot of problems.’’ Mercado said.

Dr. Elena Rios, president of the National Hispanic Medical Association, also told conference attendees that health professions must attract more Latinos.

Other needed steps include hospitals doing more to ease language barriers, and the creation of a Latino-owned, federally qualified health center in Atlanta, said Dr. George Rust of Morehouse School of Medicine, who helped develop a report on Georgia health disparities in 2008.

The numbers in the new report, he said, “represent real people in real families in real communities.’’

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Andy Miller

Andy Miller is editor and CEO of Georgia Health News

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