Insuring the working poor

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By Kurt Sheppard

Kurt Sheppard, courtesy of Valle del Sol

Since the day we opened our doors in 1970, Valle del Sol has grown to become one of Arizona’s largest nonprofit organizations. Every year, we help thousands of people through behavioral health, human services and leadership development programs.

As CEO of Valle del Sol, I see firsthand everyday why it’s important for Latinos to have access to health care services. This is why we wholeheartedly support efforts that increase the number of Latinos who have both health insurance and access to quality health services. This scenario would not only be good for Latinos; it would also be good for the entire state.

Before explaining further why expanding the number of Latinos with health insurance is so necessary, let me be clear that I’m not condemning past decisions. We have just gone through one of the most trying economic periods in U.S. history. In order to weather the storm, tough decisions were made. As we move forward, I agree with the idea of investing in both business and business opportunities in Arizona. I strongly believe the best way to keep people off public programs is to create jobs that pay them a livable wage. The question then becomes, “What do we do with all the people who are now living below the poverty level, or the working poor who cannot afford health insurance?”

Let’s take a closer look at what this question means. In Arizona, a family of four that earns just $23,050 a year is considered living in poverty. In addition, an individual making $11,170 a year is also at the poverty level. Health insurance and access to health care services are scarce commodities for these people. Almost all of the people who come to Valle del Sol for help fall into this category, and over 60 percent of them are Latino. 

It’s also important to understand how the vast majority of people who are living in poverty currently get health care. In general, when they get sick, this population tends to go to the emergency room for treatment. Their health issues can range from anything from an earache to more serious health problems, such as complications from diabetes.

Because many in this population are uninsured, the care received at the hospital comes from either tax dollars or falls under the uncompensated health care category. As a result, health care costs and insurance premiums increase. Having access to health insurance will eliminate these individuals’ need to visit emergency rooms, which tends to be costlier than being served by a primary care physician. 

People living at or below the poverty level tend to get a lot of so-called “sick care.” Many cannot afford preventive care, so they wait until they are ill before seeking treatment. If they have health insurance, they can proactively focus on prevention, which will save money. As the saying goes, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” 

This situation is even truer for people with behavioral health issues and living in poverty, who unfortunately die 20 to 25 years younger, because they are more likely to suffer from chronic diseases. Sadly, statistics for Latinos are not any better. For example, Latinos who have diabetes are more apt to suffer from kidney disease and require foot amputations. And, twice as many Latinas get cervical cancer than non-Latina white women. These startling statistics underscore the need for preventive health care. 

Increasing the number of Latinos who have health insurance will have a positive impact on our state, because it would also bring both money and jobs to Arizona. Additionally, other segments of the economy will reap the financial benefits of supporting the infrastructure and staff that are providing health care services. 

By allowing more people to have this access, Latinos can begin to think proactively about their health and get proper care along the way, not just when a costly medical crisis takes place. It’s a good decision for our people and for our state.  

Kurt Sheppard is Valle del Sol’s Chief Executive Officer. Kurt served for 20 years in the U.S. Air Force. He graduated from the University of Phoenix with a Master of Organizational Management and finished the Global Leadership Certificate Program at Thunderbird Graduate School of International Management in 2002. In 2008, he graduated from the Executive Program in Corporate Strategy at the University of Chicago. Kurt is a Virginia P. Piper Fellow and his Air Force decorations include the Air Force Meritorious Service Medal, the Air Force Commendation Medal and the Air Force Achievement Medal.

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