Last Friday, advocates and ethnic media representatives gathered at the Asian Pacific American Legal Center in Los Angeles to bring attention to who stands to lose access to health care in the city if Governor Jerry Brown’s budget passes. The press briefing, organized by New America Media and California Immigrant Policy Center, celebrated the coming expansion of health care to many under the Affordable Care Act, but warned that Brown’s proposed budget, including a cut of about $900 million in funding to the county health programs, and the coming ACA would still leave leave three to four million Californians uninsured and facing barriers to accessing critical healthcare services. According to Business Week, California counties may lose as much as $2.5 billion in state funding over the next three years for indigent health care as the state assumes responsibility under President Obama’s healthcare law.
Despite proposed expansions to Medi-Cal, the federal-state funded health care insurance for low-income people, many uninsured individuals, including the undocumented, those who do not qualify for Medi-Cal, miss the enrollment period, or simply cannot afford to purchase insurance on the exchange will remain without coverage.
Dr. Alexander Li of the Los Angeles County Department of Health Services pointed out that many of the 2.5 million estimated uninsured in Los Angeles County access programs such as Healthy Way L.A., a NO COST coverage program that averages 2 million visits a year in LA County alone, for their primary medical care needs.
Alvaro Huerta of the National Immigration Law Center highlighted that the expected to pass comprehensive immigration reform bill, while historic, would leave many of the undocumented in health care limbo because of time exclusions. As it stands now, children would especially be hurt as 45 to 55 percent of the children of immigrants have no health insurance and 17 percent of low income United States citizen children of immigrants remain uninsured, according to Huerta.
“Healthcare exclusions in the current CIR [comprehensive immigration reform] bill means states will have to pick up some of the slack,” he told the audience.
Anabella Bastida and Lidia Aguilar of the Consejo de Federaciones Mexicana en Norteamerica (COFEM) gave examples of some of the people who stand to lose, like Marta Gutierrez, an uninsured 32 year old waitress who can’t work because of a twisted ankle and is relying on Tylenol and home remedies, not a doctor’s care.
Betsy Estudillo, a member of Dream Team LA, is especially worried about the mental health of undocumented youth. She shared her personal story of growing up undocumented and uninsured, accessing primary health care via emergency rooms.
Hyun Kyu Lee a member of the Korean Resource Center and recipient of President Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), shared his experiences growing up undocumented and uninsured and how this conflicted with his experience of also feeling very American. “Whenever someone would come to the door of my house, my mother would always have me check to make sure it wasn’t law enforcement. She would also tell me not to get sick.” He added, “All people, regardless of immigration status, if they want to contribute to this country, should have access to care. This 11 million undocumented number is not abstract. These are humans and we shouldn’t define citizenship as a piece of paper.”
The advocates propose taking an inclusive approach that preserves access to health care services for all Californians, emphasizing the importance of maintaining vital safety-net health programs.
“Our healthcare system works best when all of us participate. If anyone is left out, the whole system suffers. Our future depends on keeping all workers and families who contribute tremendously to our economy, healthy and thriving,” said Reshma Shamasunder, Executive Director of the California Immigrant Policy Center.