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A distinguished assembly of experts from academia, government and the medical field gathered at the LBJ School on September 21-22 for a conference focusing on health care issues affecting aging Latinos. The event, billed as "Key Issues in Hispanic Health and Health Care Policy Research," was the second conference in the "Aging in the Americas" series and was organized by LBJ School Professor Jacqueline L. Angel and Pennsylvania State University Professor Keith Whitfield. Its purpose, according to opening remarks by Angel, was "to examine the new challenge to all nations of this hemisphere," noting that soon one-fifth of the population of the Americas will be age 60 or over.
Julio Frenk Mora, secretary of health for the Mexican Ministry of Health, delivered a keynote speech titled "Globalization and Health: Risks and Opportunities along Our Common Border," in which he described how distinctions between domestic and international issues are fading in an era of increased globalization and world travel.
"Consequences of events far away show up on our doorsteps," Frenk said, citing historical and contemporary examples. He discussed the problem of transmigration of health care providers between the U.S. and Mexico, the effect of emigration on Latin American and U.S. demographics and economics, and how social exclusion is a factor in globalized health issues. The threat of international terrorism and bio-terrorism, said Frenk, is also a global health issue, affirming that "health affairs are universal and a bridge to peace."
A series of panels convened so key investigators and researchers could present their current analytic work, debate their findings, and hold discussions. Even the threat of Hurricane Rita did not stop an intrepid delegation from the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston from attending the panel on the health consequences of Hispanic mortality. Other roundtables looked at policies involving immigration, physical disabilities, barriers to acquiring health insurance, and the effects of chronic poverty.
The poster session featured the work of researchers engaged in population health, health care policy and aging studies. All participants were recognized with awards, with the first place award going to Andres Vargas, a graduate student in the UT Austin Department of Economics.
The closing speech was given by Ronald Angel, Professor of Sociology at UT Austin and author of the forthcoming book, Poor Families in America's Health Care Crisis: How the Other Half Pays. Angel spoke about prospective political solutions to the problems noted by the previous speakers, evaluating various plans that have been put forward to address America's health care crisis and summarizing the political battles that have been waged in each case. Angel noted that poor Hispanics, especially Mexican Americans, the most underinsured population in the country, face greater health threats than other Americans. The current system, he said, has worked well for the major players of the health insurance industry and the middle-class but not for 47 million uninsured and more underinsured, who lack political clout. But, he added, with costs going up all the time, the working and middle classes are hurting and will find common ground with the poorer classes.
Angel sees some form of taxpayer-funded universal health care as "inevitable" sooner or later. "The whole debate must be shaped by values," he said, adding that access to preventive and acute health care is something that "a civilized society should offer to its citizens. The health of everyone depends on the health of everyone else."
- Kevin Hendryx