The COVID-19 pandemic has undoubtedly taught all United States citizens one thing: Access to proper healthcare in one’s life should not be a question, but a guarantee. However, in the two and a half years following the pandemic’s beginning, inequitable healthcare and health insurance access has remained a rampant issue in our nation, including right here in the state of Connecticut.
In a state whose population is 76.7% white, the health and healthcare disparities caused by inequitable access to and treatment by the healthcare system are flagrant. There is a four-fold higher chance for babies born to Black mothers to die before their first birthday than babies born to white mothers. Non-Hispanic Black/African American and Hispanic/Latino Connecticut residents pay an average of $253 million more in excess hospital costs than do non-Hispanic white residents. Life expectancy in the majority-white city of Westport is 89.1 years, while it falls to 68.9 years in Northeast Hartford, where 69% of residents are Black and 29% are Hispanic.
Connecticut residents of minority races and ethnicities should not have to fear for their children’s lives after they leave the hospital. They should not have to stress over whether to visit the emergency room when faced with the symptoms of a life-threatening condition. They should not have to spend their lives facing the statistics due to a lack of action to improve equitable access to healthcare. They should not have to face a shorter life expectancy than their white counterparts, simply because of the color of their skin.
The message is clear: programs and efforts are urgently needed to address the lack of equitable healthcare access in Connecticut. One avenue that legislators could pursue to confront this issue lies in the establishment of a comprehensive statewide healthcare navigation system. Healthcare navigators are community health workers who assist patients (often members of marginalized minority communities) burdened by socioeconomic barriers in accessing and taking full advantage of their health insurance coverage.
In Connecticut, AccessHealthCT works with four satellite organizations to provide access to healthcare navigators to state residents. These organizations can be reached during normal working hours, Monday through Friday, by phone or in person at six locations throughout the state. However, the program has indisputable limits, including the existence of only these six facilities for a population of 3.6 million people.
This lack of widespread resources immensely burdens the limited healthcare navigation staff and limits in-person accessibility to residents of less-populated areas or areas far from a facility that require long travel (which may not be feasible for those with multiple jobs or with children, further reinforcing the aforementioned socioeconomic barriers). In addition, there is a lack of legislation establishing an overarching Connecticut healthcare navigation system or establishing a plan to increase residents’ access to such services.
Enacting legislation to establish a statewide healthcare navigation system that gives every Connecticut resident equitable access to the healthcare resources they deserve would address a multitude of issues facing marginalized communities in the state. In establishing this system, multiple factors require consideration to ensure its effectiveness.
According to CT Health Equity Solutions, more than 20% of Connecticut households speak another language besides English, and 25% of households have “limited English proficiency.” A lack of diversity among existing healthcare navigators can create language barriers that impede patient access to healthcare. When passing legislation to establish a statewide healthcare navigation system, it is critical to guarantee the employment of navigators that speak multiple languages to reduce language barriers to healthcare and health insurance.
As previously mentioned, there are only six AccessHealthCT healthcare navigation facilities available for a population of 3.6 million people. Placing 600,000 residents in the hands of a single facility tremendously strains the limited amount of navigation staff at these facilities, and may adversely affect the effectiveness and efficiency of healthcare navigation. Legislation for a healthcare navigation system needs to allocate resources for an increase in the number of healthcare navigation facilities in Connecticut, especially in areas currently far from a facility or in areas where the population overwhelms available resources.
Affordability of healthcare is arguably the most glaring issue that faces Connecticut residents impacted by inequitable healthcare access. Out of all the working-adult Connecticut households purchasing AccessHealthCT insurance, which is meant to relieve the burdens of cost on families looking for health insurance, 42% pay more for healthcare than they can afford for basic needs. Access to healthcare navigation should not add to this burden, which is why such access should be built into Medicaid and Medicare for no additional cost, and the state should encourage private insurers to provide the same services for free.
Connecticut patients’ lives are at risk every day due to inequitable access to healthcare. Immediate action to reduce the socioeconomic barriers in front of affordable and equitable healthcare and health insurance is possible through the establishment of a statewide healthcare navigation system, which would provide patients with the resources they need to ensure that every time they go to the doctor’s office or the hospital, they will be receiving the best care possible in a way that will not burden their lives following care.
Please contact your state representatives here to urge them to take action on this imperative issue — more and more lives are placed at stake the longer we wait.
Alexandra Martinez-Garcia of Ledyard is a student at Yale University of a member of the Yale College Democrats.