SAN ANTONIO — Larisa Alvarado, 36, feared she had the coronavirus when she woke up last week feeling an itch and pain in her leg that later advanced to swelling. She began running a fever and became nauseous.
A friend and poison control expert suggested her symptoms could be from a spider bite, and advised her to see a doctor. But before she went to an urgent care clinic, Alvarado first had to research the cost of a visit and of the medicine a doctor was likely to prescribe—to see if she could afford them.
That’s because she doesn’t have health insurance. Alvarado lost her job as a patient resource specialist with the American Cancer Society after the organization’s fundraising was hit due to the pandemic.
Alvarado is just one of more than 11.2 million Latinos in the United States who don’t have health insurance—in 2019, almost 17 percent of Hispanics didn’t have health coverage, the highest of any group. That was the figure from before the pandemic, which was already up from 10.22 million in 2016.
Now experts say that number is likely even higher given the pandemic’s disproportionate toll on the community.
As people lose work and health care benefits, it’s become an even tougher task to ensure residents get health coverage access, said Joe Ibarra, co-chair of EnrollSA, a coalition of organizations trying to boost insurance enrollment in the San Antonio area.
“In Texas, there is no expanded Medicaid. The rules are really harsh. Folks are losing coverage as a result of losing their jobs and they are left without good options,” Ibarra told NBC News.
Latinos gained the most under the Affordable Care Act after it was enacted in 2010, with about 4 million adults and 600,000 children gaining health care coverage by 2016.
As more people lose health insurance, the cost and the availability of coverage are top-tier issues for Hispanics this election cycle. Latinos rank it even ahead of jobs and the economy and place more importance on it than they did about this time in 2016.
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“Latinos are going to the polls keeping health care in mind and their experience with Covid in mind and voting for change for their health and well-being,” Alberto Gonzalez, senior policy strategist at UnidosUS, a Latino civil rights organization, said.
Early in the election cycle, the GOP was pointing to record low unemployment rates Latinos were experiencing as reason to re-elect Trump, while Democrats countered that Hispanics were not economically stable if many had to work more than one job to make ends meet.
But the pandemic’s disproportionate effect on Latinos has forced a reckoning of the gaps in health care coverage, especially in states like Texas with a huge Hispanic population.
Fears of Covid-19 — without health insurance
Before Alvarado lost her job, she was already skimping on her health, forgoing therapy for carpal tunnel to save on the steep copay and deductibles. Now without health