Thousands of undocumented immigrants in Merced County don’t have health coverage, but advocates supporting the #Health4All campaign say there are ways Merced County could help that could possibly benefit everyone.
This week, Building Healthy Communities Merced, or BHC, a nonprofit group funded by the California Endowment, released a report outlining ways the county could potentially provide services for undocumented immigrants.
The report, put together by Stan Rosenstein, the principal advisor with Health Management Associates, a research consulting firm in the health industry, explains that because undocumented immigrants aren’t eligible for health insurance under Covered California or most non-emergency coverage from Medi-Cal, advocates around the state have asked their counties to provide coverage to those undocumented.
In 47 other counties in California, non-emergency care services are provided for adult undocumented immigrants, according to the report titled “Coverage of Undocumented Immigrants.” Merced County has the potential to do that also, the report suggests.
Health advocates in Merced have asked the Merced County Board of Supervisors to hold a study session where residents and supervisors would be able to learn and talk about the impact the uninsured population has on the county.
The board voted unanimously to hold the session, scheduled for Aug. 15 at 1:30 p.m. in Merced at the Administration Building, where health advocates will be sharing the report with supervisors hoping they will create a fund that would provide services for the remaining uninsured regardless of immigration status.
BHS has estimated there are about 25,000 undocumented residents living in Merced County
There are various existing state programs that provide undocumented adults with “significant coverage,” the study says. Coverage is available for services like prenatal care, breast and cervical cancer screenings and treatment, HIV/AIDS related treatments, emergency situations, STD screenings and treatment and family planning services.
“While significant, these services are often categorical and do not provide a comprehensive coordinated set of benefits,” the report said.
Counties have numerous options when it comes to what kind of services they can provide in a coverage package for undocumented immigrants, according to the report. There is no federal mandate put on counties to provide these services, the report found, giving counties “considerable flexibility on what services they cover.”
People, like those undocumented, who don’t have access to preventive services will continue to have poor health outcomes that will turn into more expensive treatments, the report says. Also, the report says, providers currently bear uncompensated costs and those expenses frequently are shifted to those with insurance.
The report says that problem could be alleviated, at least in part, if the county were to step in.
There are counties only hours away in the Bay Area and Los Angeles that are able to provide undocumented people with services and “the system needs to change in Merced,” said Lupe Delgado, with BHC’s prevention action team.
Fresno, Sacramento, Monterey and Santa Cruz counties have private hospitals that cover undocumented immigrants, according to the report. Fresno focuses on offering specialty care and Sacramento has a county clinic that allows undocumented people to receive care with a cap of $3,000.
Sacramento County also provides lab and pharmacy services, according to the report, and works with specialist and hospitals to provide additional services.
Last year in California, undocumented children under age 19 became eligible for full-scope health benefits under Medi-Cal, that was able to give thousands of children insurance.
This week, young Merced advocates made their way to Washington D.C to speak to representatives about their community and #Health4All efforts.
Claudia Gonzalez, with We’Ced Youth Media, said they spoke about how repealing Obama Care would take health insurance away from the 51 percent of people in Merced County who are insured under Medi-Cal.
“It’s putting a lot of people at risk and we can’t have a healthy community if young people are sick,” she said. “I think this is a great opportunity for us to take Merced to Washington D.C especially because the Central Valley and our community is often overlooked.”
Elizabeth Arellano, with Faith in Merced, said her parents are undocumented and when it comes to health care, “it’s been a struggle at home.”
”I can go to the doctor,” the 20-year-old said, but her mom who has diabetes and a bad kidney can’t afford to. Her mom, who also cares for her six grandchildren full-time, now needs to be on daily medication that gets very expensive, especially since they don’t have health insurance to help with costs.
“My parents are undocumented and I know the struggle,” Arellano said. “My mom puts her health aside. She chooses between our health and hers and she prefers ours.”