Asian Americans with LEP face unique barriers in healthcare, researchers say

A recent study published by the Washington, D.C.-based Urban Institute found that Asian Americans with limited English proficiency (LEP) face unique language barriers compared to other groups with high levels of LEP.

The report found that Asian Americans may not see the benefits of recent efforts to improve language access in the healthcare system when compared to other populations. The report maintains that more nuanced, targeted efforts to support Asian Americans and Native Hawaiians/ Pacific Islanders (AANHPI) with LEP in the healthcare system and help them enroll in health plans are necessary.

“These findings show the need for greater language accessibility for AANHPI adults with LEP in healthcare and other settings, especially as some pandemic-related health insurance coverage protections expire and the need for clear communication from state health insurance agencies to enrollees continues to grow,” the report reads.

According to the report, nearly 31% of Asian Americans and a little more than 12% of Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders have LEP. On the other hand, less than 5% of Black and white Americans have LEP, while roughly 33% of Hispanic Americans do. Among AANHPI, these percentages vary depending on the native language and culture — for example, 49.8% of Vietnamese adults reported having LEP while less than 20% of Filipino adults did.

Although more Hispanic Americans have LEP than the overall population of AANHPI, the report notes that AANHPI living in the US are a more linguistically diverse group, making broad translation efforts less effective for AANHPI. For the most part, Hispanic Americans with LEP speak Spanish as their primary language, while AANHPI speak a wider range of languages.

Additionally, less than half of Asian Americans with LEP were found to speak the three most common Asian languages, Chinese, Vietnamese, and Korean. As a result, important information about things like state Medicaid resources or local healthcare providers may be less easy to access for Asian American individuals with LEP than they are for Hispanic Americans with LEP. The report also notes that past research found state health plans have historically failed to properly account for the linguistic needs of AANHPI populations, potentially leaving out individuals who are eligible for low- to no-cost health plans like Medicaid.

According to the report, ways to improve language access in healthcare include increasing interpreter availability, increasing visibility of in-language services, and conducting more targeted research to identify specific languages for translation of information on patient portals, enrollment websites, and telemedicine platforms.

“Despite stereotypes of AANHPI people being a model minority and not facing disadvantages, many of these adults (face) several barriers that could reduce their access to health insurance and health care and make it more challenging for them to meet their and their family’s health needs,” the researchers write.

Andrew Warner
Andrew Warner is a writer from Sacramento. He received his B.A. in linguistics and English from UCLA and is currently working toward an M.A. in applied linguistics at Columbia University. His writing has been published in Language Magazine, Sactown Magazine, and The Takeout.


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