19 April 2023
For generations, immigrants have come to the United States in search of a better life and contribute every day to communities across Nevada with our work, our creativity, and our love. But many families pursuing their dreams are hampered by the inequitable care they receive from the current health care system. More than 14 percent of Nevada’s population is uninsured; that includes 195,000 undocumented immigrants without access to care. Even during a global pandemic, many had to avoid medical treatment for serious illnesses because of the costs or struggle to treat illnesses worsened by delaying medical care.
My family knows all too well the brokenness of our health care system. In 2006, my brother Carlitos died from pancreatic cancer. Initially, doctors believed he was suffering from kidney stones, but during surgery, they discovered a tumor in his pancreas. The biopsy results confirmed our worst fears — it was stage 4 pancreatic cancer. My brother was only 17 years old, and our world was forever changed.
Prior to this tragic event, we searched for any private or public health care coverage options, but found none accessible to us due to our immigration status. After enduring this horrific ordeal, we were left with a staggering hospital bill of $151,101.06 for the stay alone. The total bill, including medications, lab tests and procedures, exceeded $300,000 and ultimately resulted in the loss of our home due to a hospital lien.
This devastating experience should serve as a wake-up call for change in our health care system.
In Washington, we’ve seen some important progress on health care affordability. People across Nevada and the country stood up, worked with Democrats in Congress, passed legislation to reduce health care costs, cap insulin prices for seniors and lower premiums for millions of people.
But more needs to be done.
Here in Nevada, medical care remains unaffordable for too many, and many people do not have access to coverage or care at all. Our state leaders can pass the HOPE Act to ensure everyone can access the coverage and care we need to live and thrive.
Everyone in Nevada wants their families to be happy, healthy and whole.
Across Nevada, approximately 136,000 U.S. citizens live with at least one undocumented family member. These individuals, many of whom are essential workers who toiled on the front lines during the worst days of the pandemic, contribute significantly to our economy, paying an estimated $241.6 million in federal taxes and $121.3 million in state and local taxes. Yet, they are denied access to the same health care services their tax dollars help fund. The statistics don’t paint the full picture; across Nevada, there are countless stories of hardship and heartache like mine.
I share my family’s story not to elicit sympathy but to inspire action. The Nevada HOPE Act, which passed out of the Senate Health and Human Services committee last week, offers a potential turning point. By providing access to health care coverage, this legislation offers a glimmer of hope to families who have, for far too long, been neglected and dehumanized by the current system.
Unfortunately, as they did in Washington, MAGA Republicans are standing in the way. By passing the HOPE Act, we can take another step forward together to ensure we all have the freedom to thrive. We cannot let them continue to block progress.
We must join together and raise our voices to demand equitable health care access for all Nevadans. When we stand up together, we deliver for our families.
Rico Ocampo is a lead organizer for Make the Road Action Nevada, an organization dedicated to cultivating political influence within immigrant and working-class communities.
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