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On World Health Day, immigrants should embrace universal health care

Latinx are the most uninsured population in America today. "Medicare for All is part of the ambitious agenda that lawmakers must consider if they want to be responsive to the time we are in," Das writes.
Vijay Das is a writer and senior campaign strategist at Demos.
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NEW YORK - DECEMBER 10: A health care activist marches outside the New York offices of Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) December 10, 2009 in New York City. Around ten protesters advocating for expanded Medicare insurance benefits and unhappy with Sen. Schumer's recent health care stances were arrested by New York police after blocking the entrance to his offices in midtown Manhattan. (Photo by Chris Hondros/Getty Images) Crédito: Chris Hondros/Getty Images

Today marks the 68th World Health Day, a day to commemorate a global commitment to universal health care. Despite major gains with the passage of the Affordable Care Act, the United States remains a global outlier when it comes to delivering affordable health care for its people.

Latinx are the most uninsured population in America today. Latinx comprise much of the workforce that doesn’t get health coverage on the job. Undocumented Latinx patients are ineligible for government-funded insurance and subsidized private health plans. For those with insurance, medical bills cripple households in the form of pocketbook-busting premiums, copays and deductibles.

Everyone deserves the peace of mind to know that they won’t go broke if they contract an illness or get hurt on the job. Latinx and immigrant households alongside the nation must fully embrace a path towards Medicare for All, single-payer universal health care.

To be sure, America has made strides to advance health access. Since Obamacare became law, people of color have seen the largest gains in coverage. The Kaiser Family Foundation calculated that the rate of non-elderly Latinx without insurance dropped from 26 percent to 17 percent. That accounts for nearly 4 million people getting insured.

These gains have been made in spite of the Republican Party’s ongoing assault on the Affordable Care Act. Eighteen majority Republican-led states have not opted to expand Medicaid eligibility to more low-income adults living below 138 percent of the federal poverty level. Under Obamacare, the federal government now funds 90 percent of the cost to expand basic coverage to more low-income adults. This has translated to uninsurance rates dropping for Latinx adults by 14 percent in states that expanded Medicaid coverage, compared to 11 percent for states that did not.

A hobbled Affordable Care Act stands, as versions of Trumpcare to replace it have failed in Congress.

But Republicans have curbed access and punctured Obamacare on other fronts. The 2017 Republican Tax Plan signed into law by President Trump repeals the individual mandate, a key feature of Obamacare. The Congressional Budget Office found that the repeal raises premiums up to 10 percent annually for the next decade.

This change is on top of the Trump administration’s budget request to cut Obamacare enrollment outreach to Latinx areas, and its openness to adding work requirements to Medicaid, a policy change that throws patients further into poverty.

With the recent Republican attacks on Obamacare, it’s valuable to shore up the program’s gains and hold off efforts to undermine it. But Latinx families need a much bolder vision for improved health access. The Affordable Care Act doesn’t help enough undocumented patients, and Obamacare marketplace health plans remain out of reach.

Despite the fact that undocumented adults pay taxes, they are ineligible to receive Medicaid or financial subsidies to buy health plans from the Obamacare marketplaces. Community health clinics and nonprofits, like South Philadelphia’s Puentes de Salud, treat thousands of undocumented patients daily. Of course these services have limited reach to treat the millions of undocumented patients nationwide.

Universal health care is not on the docket today. But states, particularly those with large Latinx populations, are pushing forward health care agendas that expand coverage without relying on Washington to lead. California is undergoing a rigorous debate about how the state can transition to universal care during the anti-immigrant Trump era. A new coalition, Care for All California, is campaigning on how to increase overall access and expand California’s Medicaid to undocumented adults. California’s legislature is investigating what universal care can look like.

Much of the newfound energy to advance Medicare for All speaks to the moment we are in as a nation, and the limits of the politics that produced Obamacare, a compromise solution that relies on our overly complex, fragmented for-profit health system.

Latinx households’ struggle to get comprehensive health care is part of a larger set of pocketbook challenges all working families confront today. Demos, the nonpartisan public policy think tank, recently produced a federal policy agenda that elevates the needs of Latinx and all people of color to obtain a better future while advancing opportunities for all.

From universal health care to advancing pathways to citizenship and guaranteeing paid time to care, our economy only works if everyone is able to obtain the footing and economic security to thrive. Medicare for All is part of the ambitious agenda that lawmakers must consider if they want to be responsive to the time we are in. That’s a good thing for the Latinx community.