Addressing health care access and affordability should start with those most impacted
Health care accessibility and affordability are a topline issue for Latinos throughout Colorado — but particularly in our mountain communities, where costs tend to be higher and the availability of services more limited than on the Front Range.
According to recent polling, 81% of Latinos living in mountain communities and on the Western Slope support expanding access to health insurance for Colorado residents, including undocumented immigrants.
The support to improve our health care structure is overwhelming, but we must be thoughtful when considering how to pay for those improvements. For example, raising money through sin taxes, such as those on alcohol, tobacco and recreational marijuana, should be nonstarters, as they disproportionately affect low-income communities and people of color. When you earn less, you end up paying more for the same goods.
These regressive taxes can, and will, hurt our Latino families. Voces Unidas strongly opposes sin taxes of any kind because they add an extra barrier to escaping poverty.
Consider: 25% of Latinos living on the Western Slope postponed or cut back on health-related expenses in order to manage their financial situation during the pandemic. Tax increases that disproportionately impact our community, therefore, have a very real potential for negatively impacting those who should be served.
Our Latino communities are speaking, but to truly address community needs we must set up processes for them to be heard. In addressing our health care challenges, we need to offer Latinos a seat at the table. Real, impactful change can begin once the very people we’re trying to help are genuinely included in local decision-making about how our local health care systems should work for us, and also solve how to pay for those services.
Doing the same thing over and over while expecting a different result will only continue to leave our most vulnerable communities underserved. It’s time to include more voices in decision-making tables around health care.
So, where do we go from here? Some questions to ask when creating an inclusive health care system involving the Latino community include:
Are we intentional in how we connect to communities of color and uncover their current health care challenges?
Are we making decisions for the Latino community without them at the table, or are we co-creating, as equals, with the Latino community making decisions about the solutions?
How can we create additional opportunities for underrepresented residents, especially the undocumented and uninsured, to help design solutions that will meet their future health care needs?
Tokenism will never change the process, but broad community inclusion and involvement can.
Of the 1,000 Latinos surveyed in Colorado on behalf of the Colorado Organization for Latina Opportunity and Reproductive Rights (COLOR), Voces Unidas de las Montañas and other partners, 88% in the mountains and Western Slope want to increase access to mental health services. That is clearly an unmet need.
Health care decision-makers might have specific solutions and ideas about increasing mental health services, but their solutions may miss the mark if they exclude Latinos from the conversation, designing process and decision-making.
Change is possible when Latinos have a platform to advocate, represent and participate in the decision-making process. Health care is a vital resource — now’s the time to make it work for everyone.
Alex Sánchez is the President and CEO of Voces Unidas de las Montañas and Voces Unidas Action Fund. This guest column was first published on Dec. 6, 2021.