Oklahoma City man experiences health care disparities first hand

Ricardo Chavez has been helping his family navigate through health care access since he could walk. After relying on Medicaid himself years later, he witnessed firsthand the disparity that exists between those with quality access to health care and those without. Do you or someone you know have a health care story you would like to share? Visit OKPolicy.org/MyStory and tell us about it.

Ricardo Chavez has always known how difficult it can be to deal with one’s health without adequate access to health care. At only 18, the Oklahoma City resident has grown up helping his family through issues surrounding their health care. 

Ricardo Chavez and his parents.
Ricardo Chavez and his parents.

Both of Ricardo’s parents have been diabetic for more than 30 years. In addition, Ricardo’s mom lost her vision after he was born. Until recently, they were also undocumented immigrants without access to quality, affordable health care coverage.

“I spent a lot of time learning things for myself, but also helping my mom go through things,” Ricardo said. “I remember, as early as I could walk, guiding my mom. So a lot of my time growing up was heavily surrounded with health care and navigating those systems.”

From a young age, Ricardo was translating for his parents at hospitals, pharmacies, and even with drug manufacturers and collection agencies. He struggled alongside them as they rationed out their medication or tried to find cheaper alternatives.

“I remember going to doctors offices and having to translate for them, and then coming home and having to deal with the financial side of all those doctor’s appointments,” Ricardo said. “I saw the bills and had to call collection agencies and had to set up payment plans and different things like that.”

When Ricardo turned 16 before starting his junior year of high school, he was hospitalized and diagnosed with diabetes. Unlike his parents though, Ricardo had Medicaid.

“Whenever I think of Medicaid and how it has affected me and impacted me, I often think back to that moment when I was hospitalized, and how I wasn’t worried about my access to all the medical care because I was covered by SoonerCare,” he said. 

Ricardo’s own experience with diabetes was completely different from his parents.

“I remember whenever I got out of the hospital, I had boxes of diabetic supplies,” he said. “I remember those same diabetic supplies were rationed out whenever my parents needed them. It was really crazy for me to see I had an abundance of the same supplies my parents struggled to afford because they didn’t have the same health care coverage that I did. That was one of the biggest eye opening moments for me.”

“People sometimes struggle to realize that access to health care is super important and it’s a necessity. It’s not a luxury.”

When helping his parents, Ricardo remembers calling manufacturers to ask for a coupon for a certain drug or asking doctors if they could prescribe a generic medication. He said one of the most defining moments of his life was seeing his parents’ reaction when they heard the price of their medication and then having to walk away without it because they couldn’t afford it. 

“People sometimes struggle to realize that access to health care is super important and it’s a necessity. It’s not a luxury,” he said. “At the end of the day, it is our lives on the line.”

One of the things Ricardo hears often is people asking why they don’t just go to a free clinic. While free clinics can assist the uninsured with many basic health care needs, patients with diabetes or other high-maintenance conditions require more advanced care.

“With these types of conditions, it’s really important to take care of ourselves and get medical attention. We shouldn’t have to choose between providing a meal on the table or providing the insulin we need to get by for the next day,” he said. “We didn’t choose to have these conditions, but we have to be able to live with them every day. That means we need to be able to have access to medical professionals, and we have to be able to afford the attention our condition requires. It shouldn’t come down to whether or not we can afford certain doctors.”

Ricardo said his parents were relieved that Medicaid allowed him to get the care and medication he needed without having to struggle financially like they did. 

Ricardo is now a college freshman currently working at an Oklahoma City law firm and volunteering as programs director for Dream Action Oklahoma. He currently receives health care coverage through his employer, and his family still encourages him to take full advantage of that access.

“My family pushes me so much to go to my doctor’s appointments, to be super honest and transparent with my doctors, especially because of the preexisting conditions that I have,” he said. “Watching my parents struggle is hard, and it impacted me a lot. Being kind of an advocate growing up, I realized just how disproportionate the opportunities are.”

Both Ricardo and his parents were eligible to vote for the first time during the June 2020 election when State Question 802 was on the ballot. It was a full-circle moment for his family that one of their first votes was in favor of expanding Medicaid.

“When we got to State Question 802, they were like, ‘We read about this on Facebook, and we see things about this on TV. We know that this is what Oklahoma needs,’” Ricardo said. “I’ve been covered by Medicaid, my mom has since received Medicaid, and we’ve seen the impact. Everyone deserves it.”

“At the end of the day, pulling from something like education in order to fund (Medicaid expansion) is not going to help our community.”

Medicaid expansion is set to be implemented no later than July 1, 2021. During the next legislative session, lawmakers will be figuring out how to fund the program, and Ricardo urges them to do so without cutting other core services.

“The biggest thing here is accountability. Oklahomans are ready for change, and we need politicians to be ready to deliver,” he said. “We need to be realistic with what our community needs. At the end of the day, pulling from something like education in order to fund (Medicaid expansion) is not going to help our community. We’ve shown them that we’re ready for change, and we need them to be accountable to us and to be champions for the change we want to see.”

 

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Do you or someone you know have a health care story you would like to share?

Visit OKPolicy.org/MyStory and tell us about it.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Miguel Rios joined OK Policy as its Storybanker in May 2020. His career in communications began at Oklahoma City University where he graduated as a Clara Luper Scholar with a B.A. in Mass Communications. Before joining OK Policy, Miguel worked for Oklahoma Gazette, Oklahoma Living magazine and the State Fair of Texas public relations team. Through his diverse work experiences in various areas of communication, Miguel has become dedicated to providing a voice and platform to those who are often overlooked. A proud Mexican immigrant, Miguel carries his passion for empowering marginalized communities in every arena.

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