“The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.”
-Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
This famous MLK quote has been on a regular loop in my mind as we head into another election year, another legislative session, and celebrate the struggles and triumphs of Black people in America during Black History Month and beyond. As activists, the struggle for change can sometimes seem so overwhelming and insurmountable until we remember just how far we have come. And in order to know where we are going, we have to know where we’ve been.
Our team and community leaders are hard at work to make our belief that “health care is a human right” a reality. This legislative session we are running our first bill, Cover All Coloradans, which will expand health insurance coverage for pregnant people and children regardless of immigration status.
Paving the way
In light of this, I want to share the policies we supported that laid the groundwork for Cover All Coloradans:
SB20-215: The bill of many names... referred to as, HIAE, HIF, Health Insurance Affordability Enterprise, Health Insurance Fee, or simply 215. Whatever you call it, this bill comes up regularly in the work we do and we were proud to support it in 2020 and continue to actively work on the implementation.
When the Affordable Care Act was being negotiated, DACA recipients and undocumented immigrants were left out of financial assistance for health insurance as a political move. SB20-215 created a funding source to provide financial assistance so that Coloradans who were left out of the ACA can get affordable health insurance.
SB21-009: Our partners at COLOR led the charge on this momentous bill which expanded contraceptive coverage through Medicaid regardless of immigration status and laid the groundwork for Cover All Coloradans.
HB21-1232: More commonly known as the Colorado Option or Public Option. While some people got caught up in the debate on whether or not this is a “real” public option, we focused on working with our partners to be sure the bill improved health equity in innovative ways.
Not only did this bill create a health insurance option for everyone, including undocumented immigrants, it also is the first health insurance plan in the country to require community engagement in shaping the health insurance plan and requires a benefit package that is aimed at improving health equity.
Emergency Medicaid: People who have renal disease need kidney dialysis multiple times a week. Over several years we worked with our board member, Dr. Lily Cervantes, to get Emergency Medicaid to cover kidney dialysis. Until the passage of SB215 and the Colorado Option, Emergency Medicaid was the only affordable health coverage for undocumented immigrants.
Prior to the rule change that included kidney dialysis in Emergency Medicaid, people were forced to wait until they were near death to get temporary, life-saving treatment for their renal disease. Once they recovered, they had to wait again until they were close to dying before they qualified for Emergency Medicaid.
Removing SSN from health insurance applications: Anyone who closely follows agency rule-making processes can tell you that they don’t often get the same attention that bills do during the legislative process. In the Summer of 2020, our partners at Colorado Center on Law and Policy flagged that there was a hearing coming up to remove the requirement for a social security number on health insurance applications.
While this may seem like a small technicality, we knew that requiring this is actually a huge barrier to making sure the communities we work with can get health care. So, in the Summer of 2020 we sent out an action alert and, to our pleasant surprise, we had over 80 community members share their support for changing the rule. We also had two health care members testify at the virtual hearing. The rule went into effect and further opened up the doors for universal health insurance.
Our long-term vision
These wins are part of a long-term vision of a health care system that works for everyone. We envision a world where health care systems value humanity and wellness over profit and center the power of historically and systematically oppressed communities.
We are advancing Cover All Coloradans alongside strong organizational partners in health policy, reproductive justice and immigrant rights, with enthusiastic support from our bill sponsors, and the determination of our organizers and core leaders to mobilize directly-impacted immigrant communities to share their stories in the media and testify.
Conservative retaliation towards progressive policies can feel like we aren’t making progress. As states establish bans on teaching anti-racism in schools and lawmakers criminalize abortions, I can’t help but see these efforts as people grasping for the last straws of power. They see that the white supremacist patriarchy this country was founded on may finally be on its way out. They see that we are building power to win.
Will you join us in this important fight?
If you or your organization are interested in endorsing Cover All Coloradans, please fill out this form. And if you’d like to make a financial contribution to help us win, you can make your gift here.