Racism and health care inequity demand a federal response

Despite progress in Colorado, too many people still left behind

The Colorado Capitol in Denver as seen on June 12, 2020. (Andy Bosselman for Colorado Newsline)

We are at a cultural flashpoint when it comes to recognizing and dealing with racism here in the United States. Across the country, people are taking to the streets to protest police brutality and push for real change. Unfortunately, for people of color, racism is not something that we only face when it comes to the police. It impacts everything, from our housing and job opportunities to our health care. Whether it be the high uninsured rate or disparate impact of chronic health conditions, Black and Brown people face discrimination in the medical systems, and it is hurting our communities.  

We have made strides in Colorado in recent years to try to close gaps in access to care and in recent days to step up to meet the health needs of our people during this global crisis. This past legislative session, Colorado passed bills to make health insurance on the individual market more affordable, which also creates a path for undocumented communities to access affordable health insurance, as well as laws to bolster telehealth and consumer protection from medical debt, and create a paid sick leave program. We also passed a bill to increase police accountability

Colorado lawmakers have taken real steps to address systemic racism in our society and our systems, but the fact remains that no matter how committed our state officials are, without a real commitment from the federal government too many people will continue to be left behind and harmed. Time and again the president, his administration and GOP members of Congress have ignored the needs of marginalized communities — or worse, have undermined programs and policies that help our families to survive and thrive.  

From day one, this administration has worked tirelessly to dismantle health care provisions from the Affordable Care Act that have been life-saving for Black, Indigenous and other people of color. Since the inception of the ACA, the uninsured rates have dropped dramatically and more people have been able to get and stay healthy, because they can afford to see a doctor when they need one. But now, even in the middle of the pandemic, the Trump administration, propped up by GOP senators like Cory Gardner, are again threatening to rip away health care from millions of people. The Republican-led lawsuit now in front of the Supreme Court could overturn the entirety of the ACA with not so much as a page of a replacement plan. This would affect more than 137 million people, but most impacted would be communities of color like mine.  

Without the ACA, the uninsured rates among Black and Latinx communities will climb again, meaning a decrease in preventative care, less access to vital health services, and more obstacles for essentials like COVID testing. Black and Brown people are disproportionately affected by the global health crisis because of preexisting racial and economic divides that leave our communities more vulnerable to get, transmit and die from the virus. Taking away health insurance and the protections of the ACA would make it that much worse. 

The president needs to hear the people crying out for racial justice. GOP lawmakers need to listen to the people weeping for those lost in this pandemic. It’s about time that the federal government stop with the nonsense and do what they are supposed to do. They need to serve the people — all the people — they’ve been elected to protect. This must include addressing health inequities and halting their dangerous and discriminatory attacks on access to care. This is a matter of life and death for too many of our friends, family and neighbors.

No more games. Do your jobs!