With the future of the Affordable Care Act hanging in the balance, U.S. Senator Tim Kaine, Democrat from Virginia, held a roundtable discussion at a health center in Falls Church on Friday to learn more about how a repeal of the signature healthcare law would affect Virginia’s sizable Latino community.
The senator’s visit to Nova Salud, a Latino-focused HIV/AIDS testing, prevention and outreach center, was part of an ongoing effort to engage with stakeholders across the state on how Democrats are fighting to protect the law, while listening to stories about what a repeal would mean for Virginians.
While Republicans seem to have backed off their initial plans to repeal the ACA immediately and without replacement, communities around the state are anxious about what the future might hold.
“People are very, very worried,” Kaine said. “They’re very worried about it because they’re seeing on TV that Obamacare will be repealed but they don’t really know the details. They worry that they have health insurance now and it’s going to be taken away from them tomorrow.”
Latinos are especially concerned because they have been among the biggest beneficiaries of the health act. According to a New York Times analysis, Latinos accounted for nearly a third of the increase in adults with insurance from 2013–14. The 7.2 percent increase in coverage was the single largest share of any racial or ethnic group, far greater than its 17 percent share of the population.
Before the ACA, approximately one in three Latinos was uninsured, the highest rate of any racial group. That number has since gone down to roughly one in four. One quarter of the 20 million people who became insured through the new exchanges were Latino.
“That number is still too high,” Kaine said, regarding the group’s uninsured rate, “but to go backwards would be a disaster.”
The senator, who alternated between English and Spanish during the roundtable, opened with a short status report on the state of the ACA imbroglio before each of the attendees got a chance to to discuss issues pertinent to their organization and community.
For Marlene Alvarez, the effects of a full repeal could be catastrophic. Ten years ago, Alvarez was diagnosed with Stage 3 breast cancer. She had no insurance. Luckily, a friend brought her to the Arlington Free Clinic where she was able to receive pro bono treatment.
Before the ACA, it would have been virtually impossible for someone like Alvarez to get insurance with a pre-existing condition like breast cancer. But under Obamacare, insurance companies are not allowed to discriminate on the basis of pre-existing conditions.
Alvarez and her husband, a diabetic, now both have insurance. They realize, however, that they dodged a bullet in the past and could be in trouble in the future if insurance companies can once again deny coverage.
“If I had insurance, they could have caught the cancer much earlier,” said Alvarez, now an eligibility specialist at the Arlington Free Clinic. “I’m lucky; I could have died.”
Even with all the uncertainty surrounding the law, Kaine and other members of the roundtable did express some optimism regarding the future of the ACA.
“I am trying to convey it’s moving in somewhat of a good direction,” the senator said. “But we are not there yet.”
Fabian Sandoval, CEO and Research Director at the Emerson Clinical Research Institute, believes a full repeal of the law would be impossible at this point.
“Now that this pandora’s box of health care has been opened, there’s no way to shut it down,” Sandoval said. “There’s no way the government can take it away; they’d have to replace it with something. And it’s going to take them a long time to replace it.”
But many Latinos in the area remain worried.
Hugo Delgado, Executive Director of Nova Salud, has been getting calls by the dozens in the recent weeks. Is my healthcare going to go away? If it goes away, what will they do next? Will they come after me and my migratory status?
Delgado remains hopeful. He tells anxious community members that we will just have to wait and see.
Ultimately, however, “we still we have a lot of questions,” he said, “and we don’t have the answers.”