According to a report by the U.S. Bureau of the Census, although the number of Americans who are without health insurance declined since 1998, Hispanics and other racial and ethnic groups continue to comprise a disproportionate number of the overall uninsured.

Hispanics are more than three times as likely to be uninsured than whites and African Americans and Asian Americans are almost twice as likely to be uninsured. Additionally, American Indians were almost three times as likely to be uninsured as whites.

And it isn’t because they aren’t trying. More than 80% of the uninsured hold jobs and work year round, mostly in small businesses, according to the Census Bureau.

Enter the Fair Care for the Uninsured Act of 2001. This bill, which is being circulated in Congress, will provide a refundable credit to workers who are not covered by health insurance through their employers. The plan would be of greatest benefit to those who are not quite poor enough to qualify for Medicaid but too poor to buy health insurance on their own.

“Poor but not poor enough. That’s the phrase we’ve been trying to get across,” says Robert Deposada, executive director of the Hispanic Business Roundtable. “You have this demographic because most minorities are working year-round. Because they are working they do not qualify for Medicaid and are left on their own, which makes it extremely difficult for them.

For example, a large concentration of Hispanics work in the service industry or own their own small businesses, both venues historically do not or cannot offer quality health insurance coverage, according to the Census Bureau.

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“You need to look at the kind of employment that people have. Overwhelmingly, insurance is employer-based, and when you, as an individual, do not get insurance from your job, it is extremely expensive [to purchase on your own],” says Deposada.

The bill creates a new tax credit for the purchase of private health insurance, effective Jan. 1, 2002, of $1,000 for individuals and $500 for dependents, with a maximum $3,000 for a family. The credit would automatically be provided through either reduced withholding or estimated tax payments. The individual could opt to have the credit assigned to the insurance company.

“Three thousand dollars toward health insurance would help a whole hell of a lot,” says Deposada.

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