Caring for an elder is not only a strong value within the belief systems of many Latinx individuals, but also a reality for many. It is certainly my reality. As an immigrant, I am doing just that. I am the caretaker to my elderly disabled parent, Doña Teo. Right after my father passed in Venezuela, I began a gruesome multi-year process to ensure that my only living parent could be cared for, not by an institution but by me.
I was 33 when my elder arrived at the Denver International Airport, forever altering my life. After all, Doña Teo lives with advanced multiple sclerosis, is wheelchair bound and has complex health needs. Every day we do a lot to help her get situated, including bathing, diapering, clothing and feeding. These routines have no sick days or vacation, it is a round-the-clock commitment to ensuring someone’s quality of life. Without a doubt, it is a labor of love.
Through our journey we made multiple stops along the continuum towards obtaining legal permanent residency (LPR), and in 2012 we successfully secured my mom’s LPR status. I was sure that this change alone would open many doors, but was I wrong. I quickly learned that I could not add my mother to my health insurance plan given that she is neither my child nor my spouse, and those are the only eligible dependents. Despite the fact that her entire existence is 100% dependent on me, I cannot extend my health coverage to this elder. We had reached a dead end.
The next hurdle came in the way of a ban for immigrants seeking care. I am referring to the five-year ban for otherwise eligible Medicaid enrollees. Because my mom has no income, pension, inheritance, or assets she is eligible for this state health plan. Nevertheless, we’ve had to patiently wait five years of continuous legal permanent residency in order to qualify. Private insurance plans continue to be financially inaccessible as well.
Everywhere I looked, my one-income-household placed private plans out of my reach. Ironically, the same socioeconomic status also prevented me from accessing supports from nonprofit organizations. In other words, we simply weren’t poor enough to qualify and I didn’t earn enough to purchase private insurance. In the interim, my elder has remained without coverage.
With my mother being in her 70s and facing compounded health conditions, the wait has felt like seating on a ticking time bomb. All we can do is hope that her health remains stable and no significant health scares send my family on a downward spiral of insurmountable medical debt, or worst yet, inaccessible care.
The possibility of having accessible, high-quality health coverage in Colorado would be a dream come true for cases like mine. Should a public option for health coverage become available in this state, individuals like Doña Teo could access health coverage at a more affordable price. As a consumer and someone caring for an uninsured elder, I wholeheartedly welcome the opportunity to obtain coverage for my mom. House Bill 19-1004 will create a public health coverage option in Colorado, and is a necessary forward step for all individuals and families who otherwise remain at the margins.
Victoria Gómez Betancourt is development director for the Colorado Organization for Latina Opportunity and Reproductive Rights (COLOR) in Denver.