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April 03, 2008

Many Asian Americans in Sacramento County lack health insurance

Even while her stomach was killing her, Melelea Tausinga remained the heart and soul of Sacramento's Tongan community.

She counseled troubled teens, was the water mom for Tongan rugby teams and danced everything from Tongan classics to her favorite, "The Electric Slide."

But Tausinga never went to a doctor because she didn't know where to go and felt she couldn't afford it anyway, her husband said.

Tausinga, who died Oct. 25 of stomach cancer at age 51, was among tens of thousands of Pacific Islanders, Korean Americans and Southeast Asians without health insurance.

These ethnic groups "are doing much worse than other subgroups in terms of health insurance and access to health care," according to a study of Asian Americans released Tuesday by the Kaiser Family Foundation and the Asian & Pacific Islander American Health Forum.

Korean Americans, Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders are less likely to be insured than other Asian American groups such as Japanese or Asian Indians and twice as likely to be uninsured as whites, according to an analysis of national health data from 2004-2006.

The disparity is particularly acute in California, home to a third of the nation's Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, said Cara James, the foundation's senior policy analyst for race and ethnicity.

"People who do not have health insurance delay much needed medical care, are more likely to forgo care because of costs, and when they do finally show up for care the conditions they have are often far more severe," James said. "They are more likely to show up with late stage cancer."

That's what happened to Tausinga, said her husband, Tevita Tausinga, who won't shave his beard or change his black clothes until his wife has been gone a year.

"She was almost everywhere, and she always followed the kids, who came by the hundreds to see her before she died," he said.

Melelea Tausinga, mother of four and grandmother of seven, not only gave herself to her community, she worked for more than 10 years as motel maid, then as teaching assistant at Susan B. Anthony Elementary, where her granddaughters attend. Neither job provided health insurance.

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Posted by healthinsurance at April 3, 2008 01:32 PM