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State of Latina Health

An interview with Amy Hinojosa, MANA

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As President and CEO of MANA, A National Latina Organization, Amy Hinojosa is on a mission to empower Latinas across the United States. MANA, the oldest and largest Latina membership organization in the United States, and its sister organization, The MANA Action Fund, are leading a variety of efforts to educate and empower Latinas to advocate for positive change. Amy has become a leading voice in Washington on major policy issues including education, healthcare, financial literacy, and civil rights. In 2019, Amy launched the Health Equity Collaborative (HEC) as a project of MANA Action Fund to address discrimination and pervasive inequities in the U.S. healthcare system. Established shortly before the COVID-19 pandemic, Amy could have never predicted how significant the platform would become for promoting awareness about pervasive health disparities among racial and ethnic communities across the country. Since that time Amy has authored dozens of articles, recorded podcasts, hosted discussions at prominent events and conferences such as South by Southwest, and led initiatives on Capitol Hill to educate lawmakers about policy reforms that can benefit underserved populations. LATINO Magazine recently caught up with Amy to discuss the state of Latina health around the country, learn more about her ongoing work to promote health equity and gain some insight into what she has planned next. 

What inspired you to become an advocate for health equity? 

One in every five women in the United States today is of Hispanic/Latino descent. By 2060, that number will be one in three. If we can see health disparities in Latina health now, and by extension for our children and families, these disparities will be magnified increasingly as the population grows. Whether it's reproductive health, obesity care and maintenance, heart health, mental health, diabetes care, and so much more, we feel that MANA needs to be engaged anywhere a Latina voice is missing in the conversation. Since MANA was founded in 1974, health equity has been a top concern. 50 years later, we continue to be the leading national voice for Latinas, but have grown to realize that in order to do truly transformational work, we need to broaden the conversation to bring in all of our marginalized and underserved communities. This work must be done in a way that amplifies all of the perspectives that have been missing in the strategic national work to bring equity to our health care ecosystems through advocacy. What inspires me is being part of an advocacy community that fully understands historical marginalization, but remains hopeful yet determined to speak truth to power each day and push for systemic change for the betterment and health of all of the communities we serve. There is beauty in seeing that we can find wins to benefit those in most need from diverse backgrounds, while working each day to be sure no one else is left behind. 

What are some of the most pressing healthcare challenges facing Latinas today? 

Access to care, as well as cost of care and medications will always be top of mind for Latinas and our families. But in the current climate, we are also seeing challenges to our privacy, and our freedom to make healthcare decisions. Policy decisions are made about what care we have access to, including reproductive care and available medications that are needed for overall health. In addition, the lesson from COVID, especially for Latinas, was that underlying conditions that are prevalent in our community, proved to be even more deadly during the pandemic and can no longer be avoided. Latinas and our families suffer from obesity, heart conditions, high blood pressure, diabetes and more at very high rates. We must work closely with the healthcare ecosystem to provide the education and tools to get these ailments diagnosed, treated and maintained for long-term health outcomes. Lastly, mental health has been a silent scourge in Latino communities, particularly for youth. In addition to advocating for policy changes, MANA has been proud to provide our Hermanitas youth mentoring program for Latinas in middle and high school for over four decades to directly target those mental health outcomes with role models, mentors, and educational programming to work toward positive mental health.
What policy reforms should Congress focus on to improve Latino health and wellness? 
Compared with the general population, Latinos experience higher rates of chronic diseases like diabetes, cervical cancer, and heart disease. President Biden and Congress have correctly prioritized making prescription drugs that address such illnesses more affordable and accessible. A robust drug innovation environment holds promise for improving Latino health and lawmakers should advocate for policies that ensure the United States remains the global leader in life-science research and development. It should also be easier for Latinos to participate in our country’s innovation ecosystem. More diversity in clinical research trials means better cures, which is why we should work to reduce current obstacles to participation for diverse communities including lack of awareness, being uninsured or underinsured, and language and transportation barriers. In March 2024, I participated in an event with The Hill discussing the bipartisan effort on Capitol Hill to pass pharmacy benefit manager reform (PBM). Good health should never be out of reach, which is why we should ensure PBMs are not getting in the middle of the doctor-patient relationship. We need more transparency into PBM practices and an understanding of why three companies now control about 80% of the PBM market. 
Can you discuss the importance of community engagement in developing and implementing policies that address health equity?

Culturally, Hispanic families and communities take shared responsibility for the collective well-being. Trusted sources and messengers have historically been how community education and information is shared. While we work for policy change at the federal level, the ecosystem of engagement is incomplete without local leaders who have the respect and trust of the community to share the messages. MANA is proud to have an incomparable network of Chapters and Affiliates across the country which serve as cultural centers for community education. The COVID pandemic showed us in real-time how messages are shared through these networks of leaders, organizers, and committed volunteers to educate their communities, navigate health systems to access and receive vaccines, and ultimately, keep their families safe.

How can we incentivize healthcare providers and services industries to deliver care in a way that reduces disparities and advances health equity? 
We should be integrating health equity metrics into quality reporting requirements for hospitals and healthcare systems and make sure they are held accountable for achieving progress in reducing disparities. One area of growing concern is related to potential abuses of the 340B Drug Discount Program by large hospital systems. The 340B program requires pharmaceutical manufacturers to provide discounts to certain hospitals that service vulnerable populations. Since its inception in 1992, the 340B program has grown significantly with little transparency and oversight. New research has found that the number of pharmacies that are qualified to provide drug discounts to patients has been growing in predominantly affluent White neighborhoods and declining in Black and Latino neighborhoods. To anyone who understands the true intent of the program, this is not what we expect to see. It's time for lawmakers and community organizations to consider reform options to ensure these discounts are reaching the communities that need them most. 

You were recently elected as chair of the National Hispanic Leadership Agenda (NHLA). Looking ahead, what are some of the top priorities NHLA will be focused on?

I am truly honored to serve as the chair of the foremost roundtable of national Hispanic leadership in the United States, comprised of 40 national Hispanic serving and led organizations. As we work our way through this critical election cycle, we are leveraging the collective thought leadership and expertise of these prominent national organizations to develop the 2024 Policy Agenda for issues related to the U.S. Hispanic/Latino population. This agenda will be shared with candidates and elected officials to lay the groundwork for our expectations with respect for the Hispanic/Latino community in the coming years. The issues covered in this agenda will include: Civil Rights, Criminal Justice, Mass Incarceration, Health Equity, Immigration, Media, Economic Security and Empowerment, Education, Environment and Energy, Government Accountability, the Census, and Tech & Telecom policy. The agenda takes great care to be sure women's and LGBTQ+ issues are centered in these important conversations. This important document sets the national agenda for our community and signals to the millions of Hispanic/Latino-Americans across the country that these 40 national organizations are committed to advocating for reforms that are important to their families. 

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