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Affordable Health Care Chance for Those in the State Illegally

19-year-old undocumented CSULB student calls on the state to help illegal aliens in California.

Tony Bell, Spokesman of Los Angeles County supervisor Michael D. Antonovich is against the idea of providing affordable health care for illegal aliens. photo credit:

Voice from: Norberto Lopez, an undocumented immigrant in US-Long Beach; Isela Gracian, Vice President of Operations of East LA Community Corporation Mario Chavez, director of public relations at St. John’s Well Child & Family Center of Los Angeles, said that they lost about $60 millions a year for people living in the country illegally.


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By Eileen Meng Lu

As a group barred from federal subsidies to enroll in the Affordable Care Act or California’s Medicaid program, a newly proposed bill, Health for All Act, might end their health care struggles.

For now, without healthcare insurance, immigrants living in the country illegally have to go to emergency rooms or local clinics that provide free basic medical services, which cost those clinics large amount of money.

Mario Chavez, director of public relations at St. John’s Well Child & Family Center of Los Angeles, said that they lost about $60 millions a year for people living in the country illegally. Among approximately 175,000 annual visits in their 10 clinics throughout the city, there were 30,000 to 35,000 what they called “completely uncompensated visits,” he said. “These visitors are undocumented people,” Chavez added, “that means we get no imbursement from anybody.”

Immigrants living in the U.S. illegally have more layers of medical needs. Except for preventive health care that enables residents access to regular checkups, screenings, and early diagnosis of health problems, another important need for them is mental health, including the need to relieve posttraumatic stress syndrome that a lot of people live with. For example, the constant fear of “Am I getting deported,” Chavez said. Other medical services such as dental health that has already been hard for citizens to access could be more difficult for immigrant living here illegally to get.

For now, immigrants living here illegally would better to pray for having a strong body themselves. Norberto Lopez, 19, a student lining here illegally attending California State University of California, Long Beach, said that if he was sick he would just stay at home and be taken care of by his mother. “I’ve been lucky enough to never get sick. I’ve got like common cold and flu but you can go to any store to get medicine for that,” said Lopez.

“Excluding people from access to care hurts the overall health of our communities, and does not reflect California values,”said State Senator Ricardo Lara of the 33rd District.

Sen. Lara introduced SB 1005, the Health for All Act in February this year, which would expand access to health care coverage for all Californians, regardless of immigration status. Last week, on April 30th, Senate Health Committee approved SB 1005 on a 6-1 vote, and now headed to the appropriations committee. If passed in the House, uninsured residents would be able to legally enroll in a health plan.

Under the Health for All Act, immigrants who enter the country illegally would be able to enroll into a health plan in a statewide marketplace at an affordable price. The bill would authorize individuals who meet all of the requirements for Medi-Cal program under the existing law, except for their immigrations status, eligible for full-scope Medi-Cal benefits.

Also, the bill would establish California Health Exchange Program for All Californians (CHEPFAC) that mirrored “Covered California” to offer health insurance to individuals through a new health benefit exchange. Basically the bill enables immigrants living in the state illegally to share the same healthcare benefit with legal residents.

For now, not all immigrants living here illegally are kept from medical insurance, though. Vendor Guillermina Gonzalez, 42, and living here illegally, indirectly gets health care through the Affordable Care Act, even though ACA specially excludes immigrants living here illegally from insurance coverage.

The Affordable Care Act has enrolled more than 625,000 people in health plans since it was opened for business on Oct. 1, 2013. It has effectively reduced California’s uninsured population with affordable coverage.

Gonzalez was able to get covered because of the Queens Care program for low-income families that doesn’t require legal status. She said, the Obamacare program allows more people from the existing Queens Care program who meet the requirement to enter the more affordable Obamacare, which opens more spaces in the existing Queens Care program.

Whereas, the number of immigrants living here illegally who are eligible for health care currently is limited, among about 2.3 million immigrants living in California illegally, around 1 million still don’t have medical insurance. Therefore, the Health for All Act sheds some lights to this group of people.

“Everyone is entitled to health coverage, just because you are undocumented or you are documented doesn’t mean you deserve more or less access to health coverage and health care, because everyone deserves to be healthy,” said resident Karla Cortez. She has several cousins who don’t have insurance because they are living here illegally, and it broke her heart looking at them because they couldn’t afford medical services and medication when they were sick. Cortez said she would be so happy for her cousins if the bill passes in the near future.

However, as a legal immigrant, Los Angeles resident Huiping Guo felt that the state has given immigrants living here illegally too many priorities. “We don’t make every effort to be legal citizens, work hard and pay large amount of tax to help illegal immigrants.” Guo said. She believed that taxpayers should get the most out of what they paid.

Tony Bell, the Spokesman of Los Angeles County supervisor Michael D. Antonovich, echoes Guo’s opinion. “What does taxpayers of the county get benefit from that? What about people who come here legally? They don’t get benefits, but they have to pay taxes, that not fair to them, is it?” said Bell.

According to Bell, currently in Los Angeles County, the county taxpayers are responsible for $ 550 million for public safety. 25 percent of jails are made of immigrants who come to the country illegally, who cost taxpayers money for probation and other court expenses.

If the state provides new health care for immigrants living here illegally, Bell estimated that there would be nearly $ 500 million annual cost in health care for them. Combined with the expense of public safely, food stamp and welfare, taxpayers eventually contribute more than $ 1 billion every year to help immigrants living in the state illegally.

“If there’s any benefit to have illegal immigrants in the county to work for lower wages, it pales in comparison to the amount of money that has spent to care for the illegal aliens,” said Bell.

However, some argue that this is not how the state decides to expand tax money. “The reality is, they are paying it anyway.” director of public relations at St. John’s Well Child & Family Center of Los Angeles Chavez argued. He pointed out that any person, documented or not, who got into a car accident and ended up receiving county medical, the taxpayers were paying for that.

In his opinion, taxpayers are already paying for the health care of people uninsured, so it makes it more sense to provide an actual health plan. “They will be healthy, and will not cost much money to the city and the county at the emergency room,” said Chavez.

California is increasing services for immigrants living here illegally these years. For example, starting in 2013, immigrants living here illegally accepted by state universities in California may receive assistance from Cal-Grants under the California Dream Act ; beginning Jan. 1, 2015, immigrants living here illegally will be able to obtain a driver’s license.

So far, Governor Jerry Brown hasn’t yet signed the bill SB 1005, and a spokesman for Brown refused to comment on whether he would support the bill or not.

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