Odalys Avila’s job is to find answers – answers for families who are used to being told no.
“We have a lot of clients who are undocumented, and so if you’re undocumented, they don’t qualify for anything, unfortunately,” he said.
Avila works for Servicios de la Raza, a social service organization serving the Latino community in Denver, Colorado. She helps community members navigate different health care systems and obtain insurance, which becomes difficult even when there are U.S. citizens in the household.
“We have families who are afraid that if we apply for our children or our spouse, how will that affect me as an undocumented person?'” she said.
He sees firsthand how these insecurities turn into real health problems.
“If they can’t cover the medicine or they can’t get preventive care, then they come in at the last minute and look for some kind of help because, you know, now they have these big health problems that they have to take care of,” Avila said.
According to the 2020 US Census, the Hispanic population is the least insured in the country: 18% of Hispanic Americans of all ages were uninsured, compared to 10% of black Americans and 8% of white Americans.
By age group: 25% of Hispanics of working age and 9.5% of Hispanics under 18 were uninsured.
“It’s really hard for families to decide: Do I get health care for my child who needs a transplant, or do I make sure we can stay in the U.S. and not go back to somewhere we had to flee because of violence?” said Rayna Hetlage, senior policy director at the Colorado Center for Health Progress, an organization that helped push bills into law to allow undocumented immigrants and low-income people access to health insurance.
“When the Affordable Care Act was passed, concessions were made to pass it, and some of those concessions were things like excluding DACA recipients, leaving undocumented immigrants out of coverage,” Hetlage said.
The new law expands Medicaid and CHIP coverage to undocumented pregnant women and children in 2025, and starting next year, state funds can help qualifying residents below a certain level of the federal poverty line.
Advocates like Rudy Gonzalez of Servicios de la Raza say these solutions are necessary to equalize low-income members of his community.
“We’re able to insure them. That’s the biggest part of this new law,” he said.
Several states, such as California, New Jersey, Texas, Michigan and New York, have worked to create similar solutions, such as expanding Medicaid access to undocumented children and pregnant women, reaching more toward Colorado.
“We’ve talked to other states that are really curious about what we’re doing here,” Hetlage said.
Avila hopes that the more access is increased for low-income or undocumented people everywhere, the more people will understand the need for it to exist.
“I hope they support future legislation that is possible. I hope they support this legislation and the expansion of this program,” he said.