DENVER, Colo. — Odalys Avila’s job is finding answers—answers for families who are used to being told “no.”
"We do have a lot of clients who are undocumented, and so, when you're undocumented, unfortunately, you know, they don't qualify for anything," she said.
Avila works at Servicios de la Raza, a social services organization that serves Denver Colorado’s Latino community. She helps members of the community navigate different health systems and sign up for insurance, which gets complicated even if there are US citizens in the household.
"We do have some families who fear, 'if we apply for our kids or for my husband, how is that gonna, you know, affect me as an undocumented person?'" she said.
She sees firsthand how that uncertainty turns into real health complications.
"Not being able to cover medications or not being able to get preventative care and then coming at the last minute, looking for some sort of assistance because you know, now they have these like major health issues that they need to get taken care of," Avila said.
According to 2020 US Census Data, the Hispanic population is the least insured in the country: 18% of Hispanic people of all ages in America were uninsured, compared to 10% of Black Americans and 8% of white Americans.
By age groups: 25% of working-age Hispanics and 9.5% of Hispanics under 18 were uninsured.
"Families are in a really tough spot to decide: do I get healthcare for my child who needs a transplant or do I make sure that we can stay in the United States and not go back somewhere that we had to flee because of violence?" said Rayna Hetlage, senior policy manager at Colorado’s Center for Health Progress, an organization that helped get bills turned into law that allows health insurance access to undocumented immigrants and low-income people.
"When the Affordable Care Act was passed, concessions were made to get it to passed and some of those concessions were things like leaving out DACA recipients, leaving out undocumented immigrants from having any access to coverage," said Hetlage.
A new law will expand Medicaid and CHIP coverage to undocumented pregnant people and children in 2025, and beginning next year, state funds will be able to help qualifying residents who are a certain level below the federal poverty line purchase insurance.
Advocates, like Rudy Gonzalez of Servicios de la Raza, says these solutions are necessary to level the playing field for low-income members of his community.
"We're going to be able to get them insured. I mean, that's the biggest part of this new law," he said.
Several states like California, New Jersey, Texas, Michigan, and New York have worked to create similar solutions, like expanding Medicaid access to undocumented children and pregnant people, with more reaching out to Colorado.
"We've had conversations with other states who are really curious to hear what we're doing here," said Hetlage.
For Avila, she hopes the more access increases for low-income or undocumented folks across the board, the more people will see the need that exists.
"I hope that they support future laws that are possibly put in place. I hope they support this law and this program to be expanded," she said.