More than half of Merced County’s undocumented workers don’t have health insurance

Fifty-four percent of undocumented immigrants in Merced County go through their day without any type of health insurance, according to new data.

This research found that maintaining a large population of uninsured residents is harmful, not only to those who lack coverage but also to a community’s overall health and economy.

Researchers at the University of Southern California’s Center for the Study of Immigrant Integration and San Diego State University released new estimates that measure the levels of medical insurance coverage among undocumented immigrants in several California communities, including Merced County.

The “Unauthorized and Uninsured” data, released Wednesday, gathers information from 2008 to 2012, prior to the implementation of the Affordable Care Act. Because undocumented immigrants are left out of the health care reform, researchers estimate the numbers are likely unchanged.

The information, which is self-reported, shows that 46 percent of undocumented adults, ages 25 to 64, in Merced County have some type of health insurance. This includes 20 percent who reported having employer-sponsored medical insurance, and 24 percent who reported obtaining low-income insurance or government assistance. According to the data, this assistance is most likely in the form of emergency Medi-Cal.

These estimates are compared with the 81 percent of U.S.-born Merced County residents who had health insurance in 2012, including 48 percent who were insured through their employers and 13 percent who received government assistance.

The research also takes a deeper look at east and southwest Merced, where unauthorized immigrants represent 10 percent of the population. In this area, 45 percent of undocumented adults have coverage, of which 19 percent reported receiving government assistance.

According to researchers and advocates, giving the undocumented more health insurance options makes economic sense.

“Undocumented immigrants represent 1 in 10 of the state’s workers, so covering a population that contributes an estimated $130 billion to our state’s GDP makes sense given the positive spillover effects on the economy,” said Dr. Manuel Pastor, director of the USC Center for the Study of Immigrant Integration, in a news release.

Crissy Gallardo, of the Merced Organizing Project and head organizer in the local efforts of the statewide Health4All campaign, explained that those without insurance tend to wait until their medical conditions become serious and end up going to the emergency room instead of taking the preventive measure of visiting a doctor.

“We all end up paying for those emergency room visits,” she said. “Prevention is more powerful than treatment.”

The data also took a look at how the undocumented fared economically and socially. According to the report, undocumented immigrants in Merced County experience higher levels of poverty and lower homeownership compared with those with legal status. The average annual earnings among full-time undocumented workers is $18,000.

The research also showed that about 43 percent of undocumented people in the county work in agriculture. Manufacturing, construction and retail trades are also popular among this group.

BY: Sun-Star staff writer Ana B. Ibarra can be reached at (209) 385-2486 or aibarra@mercedsunstar.com.