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Soc Sci Med. 2009 Oct;69(8):1261-71. doi: 10.1016/j.socscimed.2009.08.001. Epub 2009 Aug 31.

Contextual effects on health care access among immigrants: lessons from three ethnic communities in Hawaii.

Author information

  • Sam Houston State University, Department of Sociology, Huntsville, TX 77341, USA. jyc002@shsu.edu


Immigrant health care is the product of the dynamic interaction between societal factors and the individual's socio-economic and cultural characteristics. Our knowledge about immigrant health care, however, has been limited to individual characteristics, without paying attention to the social context in which immigrants reside. This paper explores the effects of social contexts on access to health care among recent immigrants. As a natural experiment, it compares health care experiences of three immigrant groups in Hawaii - Filipinos, Koreans, and Marshallese - who are situated in different social contexts including immigrant health policy, ethnic community, and individual networks. Through household surveys conducted between October 2005 and January 2006, information of 378 recent immigrant adults on health care access, health insurance status, socio-demographic characteristics, linguistic and cultural factors, health status, ethnic community social capital, and social networks was obtained. The results of analyses show that Marshallese respondents have better access to health care than the other two groups, in spite of their lowest socioeconomic status. The high insurance rate of the Marshallese, mainly associated with a state health policy that provides health insurance assistance for the Marshallese, is the major contributor of their greater health care access. While Filipino immigrants do not benefit from state insurance assistance, high levels of health care resources and social capital within the Filipino community enable them to have significantly better health care access than Koreans, who have higher income and educational attainment. Interestingly, the advanced family/kinship networks are associated with better levels of immigrant health care access, while the increase of co-ethnic friend networks is related to lower access to health care. This study implies that restoration of immigrants' eligibility for public health insurance assistance, development of health care resources and social capital within ethnic communities, and mobilization of immigrant networks would be effective starting points to improve health care access among immigrants.

[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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