Photo courtesy of John Whitaker, Merced County Times.
By JONATHAN WHITAKER
July 27, 2017
Supporters of the local “Health Care For All” movement are speaking up after the release of a new report that points to the consequences of not providing coverage options to undocumented adults.
They are also encouraged after a unanimous decision by the Merced County Board of Supervisors to explore ideas on how to provide health insurance to thousands of local residents who lack coverage because of their immigration status.
A study session on the issue is planned for Aug. 15, at 1:30 p.m., inside the County Administration Building, at 2222 M Street in Merced. Two supervisors who have paid particular interest in the Health Care For All strategy — Lee Lor and Rodrigo Espinosa — are assigned to oversee the meeting.
During a “call to action” event Monday on the steps of the County Building, Tanya Mendoza, an undocumented worker and social activist, was among several speakers who offered testimony about their struggles to continue to work and care for families while trying to overcome illnesses.
“Where’s the help from our community? … Where’s the help from our leaders?” she asked. “It’s very sad to be a field worker, or a construction worker, or a restaurant worker, and not have any health insurance. … It’s a necessity, it’s not a luxury. … Not only are we working from sunrise to sunset, we also work Sunday.”
Mendoza, who works in agriculture, said she recently contracted a stomach bacteria infection and her only option was to go to a community clinic with a sliding scale pay system. She said the $300 prescription she was given severely affected her food and rent situation for two months, and she couldn’t afford follow up exams. That’s why, she says, workers like her hide their illnesses because they know they simply won’t get the care.
Merced County is home to about 25,000 undocumented immigrants, according to the non-profit group Building Health Communities, and more than half don’t have any sort of coverage. The overall number across the state is more than 1 million people. Advocates say these workers pay taxes, but often don’t receive the benefit of those taxes. Local activists are asking the Merced County government to respond by directing funds and supportive programs to the effort for new coverage.
Elizabeth Arellano, a 20-year-old youth leader in the group Faith In Merced, says she and others are consulting with the county’s Public Health Department to develop a program to provide ancillary care and diagnostic services to all uninsured residents upon referral by a primary care provider, and leverage any opportunities from clinics and hospitals for specialty care.
“This program would be supported by a new fund created by Merced County that will be available until exhausted,” Arellano said. “The fund will cover health care access for all remaining uninsured Merced County residents, regardless of immigration status, who may otherwise meet Medi-Cal eligibility requirements. The fund will reimburse providers at Medi-Cal fees for service rates.”
A new report, “Coverage of Undocumented Immigrants” by Stan Rosenstein of Health Management Associates, will be submitted at the Aug. 15 study session in Merced. The study highlights that most undocumented immigrants are not allowed to enroll in Covered California, and they are not eligible for Medicare.
• If these individuals do not have access to preventive services, there will continue to be people who experience poor health outcomes requiring more costly treatment and providers will continue to have uncompensated cost that put providers under duress and result in cost-shifting from the uninsured to the insured.
• Through a number of programs, the state provides significant coverage for adult undocumented immigrants that, while not comprehensive, go beyond limited safety net coverage. While significant, these services are often categorical and do not provide a comprehensive coordinated set of benefits.
• The Health Access Foundation reports that in 2015, 47 counties in California provide non-emergency care for adult undocumented immigrants. These counties have a wide range of income standards ranging from 100 percent of the federal poverty level to 400 percent in San Francisco. Some counties have resource limits while others do not.
• Counties have numerous options as to what scope of services it provides in a coverage package for undocumented immigrants. As there is no state or federal mandate to proved these services, counties have considerable flexibility on what services they cover.
Ken Cha, a member of the local Hmong community, told the crowd on Monday that his aunt, an undocumented field worker, went 30 years without any type of health care until a serious illness forced her to look abroad for care.
“Everyone deserves health care coverage because it is a human right,” Cha said.
Pastor Phil Jenkins of Mount Olive Mission Baptist Church in Atwater called for more support from the local faith-based community.
“I’m challenging those that are in the clergy [to recognize] that people in our congregations are the ones that need the help,” he said. “I can pray for you, but while I’m praying for you, I also want a doctor to care for you.”
Jenkins added that the argument of increased costs in the system, and impacts from other areas of society that also need attention do not counter the urgent need of caring for the health of a “small few.”