252017Apr

Merced County to explore health coverage for undocumented

A young child at the Merced County Board of Supervisors meeting on Tuesday, April 25, 2017. Dozens of people wearing T-shirts with the phrase #Health4All came to the meeting to give testimony in hopes the board will vote to hold a study session to discuss developing a program for health coverage for those who currently have no options – undocumented people. Brianna Calix

BY MONICA VELEZ AND BRIANNA CALIX  | 
The Merced County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously Tuesday to explore ideas on how to provide health insurance to the thousands of local residents who lack coverage because of their immigration status.
Dozens of people, many wearing black T-shirts with the phrase #Health4All, waited through hours of the board’s meeting to speak on the matter, urging the supervisors to work with health organizations and community members.
“It’s not about feeling sorry for us. We’re not asking for a favor,” said one 36-year-old woman, who asked that her name not be used because she is undocumented.
“It’s a human right. Every person deserves to have health coverage. We use our hands to enrich this community. We work here, too.”
Supporters say the study session will allow the supervisors and residents to learn about the impact the uninsured population has on the county, said Lupe Delgado, a healthcare outreach worker with the Parent Institute for Quality Education.
 
The non-profit group Building Healthy Communities estimates Merced County is home to about 25,000 undocumented immigrants, more than half of whom are “locked out” of health coverage.
Overall, about 8 percent of Merced County residents lack insurance, according to 2016 figures from Enroll America.
Delgado said advocates hope the study session will lead county officials to allocate funds in the next budget cycle for a program that would bring health care access to all Merced County residents, regardless of immigration status.
Having the study session is a huge victory, she added, because they’ll “be able to provide this information to all the supervisors at the same time because they are the decision makers in allocating this type of funding.”
The study session will be led by two of the board’s newest supervisors, Rodrigo Espinoza and Lee Lor. The two, who both unseated incumbents in last year’s elections, agreed to meet with community members to talk about when and what will be discussed during the session.
Espinoza and Lor said they would report back to the board during its May 9 meeting to set a date and time for the session.
“We’ve heard enough from the community and I think it’s very important this gets addressed,” Espinoza said.
The woman who declined to give her name, citing safety fears for her and her children because of her immigration status, said she was pleased by Tuesday’s vote, “but I’m not excited.”
“I don’t see they’re into it. I don’t see their hearts there,” she told the Sun-Star. “I’m so sorry to say that, but I’m happy at least they want to talk about it now. It’s a big step but there’s a lot of things to do.”

Community members at the Merced County Board of Supervisors meeting on Tuesday, April 25, 2017. Dozens of people wearing T-shirts with the phrase #Health4All came to the meeting to give testimony in hopes the board will vote to hold a study session to discuss developing a program for health coverage for those who currently have no options – undocumented people. Brianna Calix

Supervisor Jerry O’Banion said health care is important but doesn’t want to give people the impression the board can solve the issue without assistance from the state and health organizations, like the Merced County Department of Public Health.
“I’d hate to see a situation where we have false hope,” O’Banion said. “It all boils down to the financing. At this point in time I don’t see any solution to it.”
The state government has agreed to take over the issue and be responsible for insuring those who aren’t insured, O’Banion said, and as of now, “it’s out there in limbo.”
Merced resident Gloria Sandoval applauded Tuesday’s decision but worries some supervisors doubt health care for all is possible.
“We can’t accept that. We can’t,” Sandoval said. “Why wouldn’t we want to make sure that everyone is safe?”
She added: “If there’s a will there’s a way and some of it needs to be a political will.”
Read it on the Merced Sun-Star