The Affordable Care Act signed into law by former President Obama celebrates its ten-year anniversary this year. While the ACA has done much to expand access to vital health services to millions of Americans, the public health emergency caused by COVID-19 is shedding light on the life-threatening inequities in healthcare coverage that persist in California.
Healthcare coverage remains critical to preventing and managing serious medical conditions. A fact that is heightened in the context we are living in right now. Health coverage is the gateway for individuals and families to seek preventive care and treatment when they need it, while keeping costs low. It is also a source of security in times of crisis—not having coverage causes greater distress and stress. Yet, Latinos in California continue to face serious challenges to access to health coverage:
1. Latinos fall behind other racial and ethnic groups in healthcare coverage. More than half of the state’s uninsured population is Latino. According to estimates, that’s more than 2 million people that are unable to consult with a doctor or seek treatment if they get sick.
2. Young Latinos that qualify for state assistance still go uninsured. About 3 of every 4 Latino children up to 18 years of age are eligible but not currently enrolled in the Medi-Cal program, which provides free to low-cost health insurance to low-income Californians. Modest investments in the enrollment process could reduce the number of uninsured children and youth.
3. Latinos are the least likely to benefit from employer-based health insurance. Only about 31% of Latinos get health coverage from their employer, leaving individuals to seek more costly healthcare plans in the private market.
California has enforced shelter-in-place, requiring “non-essential” workers to work remotely to slow the spread of the virus, however, not everyone has this flexibility. Less than one in five Latinos are able to telework—making them the least likely to have the option to work-from-home when compared to other groups. This puts Latinos at a higher risk of contracting the virus without the necessary healthcare coverage if they were to become sick. As California prepares to tackle this unprecedented challenge, it will need to consider policies and practices that expand, not limit, access to healthcare.
And we have a responsibility to do more—and fast as it relates to our seniors. Governor Newsom’s administration has already proposed expanding Medi-Cal coverage to undocumented older adults above the age of 65 starting next year. 23,000 seniors stand to benefit from this policy change. What’s more, the California Latino Legislative Caucus this week called on Governor Newsom to extend these benefits to all low-income undocumented adults.
Testing may be available without insurance but considering that older adults are particularly vulnerable to serious health complications if infected by COVID-19, implementation of this expansion must be fast-tracked. Every senior citizen—regardless of their immigration status—deserves coverage, especially during this public health crisis.
Now more than ever, closing the gap in healthcare coverage must be a priority. When lawmakers revise and approve the state budget for the upcoming fiscal year, they must do everything they can to ensure that more Latinos have equal access to the health services they need to keep their communities healthy and safe — because when Latinos are healthy, so is California.
Written by Eduardo García, Civic Engagement Fellow at the Latino Community Foundation (© Photo from Healthy Hispanic Living)