Strong Demand Among Undocumented Coloradans for Health Coverage

Closeup portrait, patient talking good news conversation to healthcare professional, isolated indoors background

Eric Galatas | Colorado News Connection

Colorado’s Omni-Salud program – which allows low-income undocumented Coloradans and Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals recipients to enroll in affordable health insurance plans with financial assistance – saw a surge in demand at the start of the state’s open enrollment period.

Raquel Lane-Arellano – communications manager with the Colorado Immigrant Rights Coalition – said the rush to enroll shows that word is getting out about the program, now in its second year.

“It also shows us that there is such a great need for the program,” said Lane-Arellano, “given that the capacity – which is currently at 11,000 for the Silver Enhanced Savings Program insurance plan – filled up in two days, which was absolutely a record.”

Lane-Arellano said the strong demand should move lawmakers to expand investments in Omni-Salud – which aims to reduce costs to taxpayers, including expensive emergency room care when patients without insurance can’t pay their bill.

Critics say the program forces Colorado taxpayers to subsidize undocumented immigrants’ health insurance against their will, and have called it a violation of the Affordable Care Act.

Undocumented Coloradans are also taxpayers, paying nearly $273 million in federal taxes, and $156 million in state and local taxes in 2018.

Lane-Arellano said as the pandemic made very clear, it’s important to ensure that everyone – including front line low-wage workers – can access health care.

“Our communities are healthier and stronger when everyone can get the care that they need,” said Lane-Arellano. “A lot of the folks who are here have been a part of our communities for decades, paying taxes, working, and contributing to our state and local economies.”

Undocumented residents can still enroll for coverage through Omni-Salud. But unlike some other low-wage workers in Colorado, they will have to pay market prices without financial assistance.

Lane-Arellano said she worries that people may put off seeking care if they can’t afford insurance, which can lead to a cascade of bad outcomes.

“They’re forced to take leave from work,” said Lane-Arellano. “They may need to seek emergency services, which costs more. And they may also end up in crushing medical debt due to the severity of the progression of their illness which in a lot of cases is preventable with early treatment.”

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