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Report Finds Barriers To Health Care For Immigrants, Refugees In KC Area

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Immigrants — both legal and undocumented — living in the metropolitan Kansas City area face unique barriers to health care, according to a report released this week by the REACH Healthcare Foundation.

Based on information gleaned from surveys and discussions facilitated by social service agencies, the report concludes that immigrants and refugees, including many from Somalia and the Chin region of Burma, must overcome cultural, financial and administrative obstacles to access health care services — even, in some cases, those provided by clinics established to serve the uninsured.

Download the report on immigrant health.

Brenda Sharpe, president and CEO of the foundation, said the report will help it determine priority needs as it works to increase access to health care for poor and underserved people in its six-county service area, which in addition to the KC metro area includes a rural county in southeast Kansas.

Undocumented immigrants are a particular focus of the report, because they are not eligible for subsidized coverage under the Affordable Care Act or Medicaid, she said.

“We needed to learn more about the barriers to health care for these groups and get their perspectives on what would help them navigate health care systems,” she said.

“Fear and mistrust” are significant barriers among undocumented immigrants, according to the report.

Other barriers cited in the report include:

  • A lack of quality interpreters at hospitals, clinics and private physician practices to help immigrants and refugees navigate what they view as an overly complicated health care system.
  • Health care workers who lack an understanding of the immigration system and how it can “re-traumatize immigrants” escaping war, torture and other forms of violence.
  • Limited access to specialists and behavioral health services.

Based on the findings, organizations that serve the immigrant and refugee communities provided the foundation with recommendations that ranged from funding programs that educate health consumers and providers to establishing a self-insurance plan for undocumented immigrants. The recommendations will help guide the foundation’s board in setting funding priorities, Sharpe said.
The foundation was established in 2003 with proceeds from the sale of Health Midwest. It is among the organizations that provide funding to KCUR for the Kansas News Service.

Jim McLean is managing director of the Kansas News Service, a collaboration of KCUR, Kansas Public Radio and KMUW covering health, education and politics in Kansas. You can reach him on Twitter @jmcleanks. Kansas News Service stories and photos may be republished at no cost with proper attribution and a link back to kcur.org.

Jim McLean is a political correspondent for the Kansas News Service, a collaboration based at KCUR with other public media stations across Kansas. You can email him at jim@kcur.org.
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