Health Care Reform: Advocates Say Many Fall Through the Cracks

Health Care Reform: Advocates Say Many Fall Through the Cracks

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LOS ANGELES – Kevin Hyun Kyu Lee, 22, an organizer with the Korean Resource Center, remembered that his mother would always warn him when he was young, “Never get sick because we are uninsured.” That's because as undocumented immigrants they did not qualify for health care. Today, Lee still worries about his parents who, as undocumented immigrants, do not have health insurance.

Lidia Aguilar also worries about those left out of Obamacare. She’s a promotora (health promoter) with Consejo de Federaciones Mexicanas en Norteamerica, who has helped organize a health care fair for the last 13 years in Los Angeles. She knows that when the Affordable Care Act kicks in, millions of people won’t qualify. For these people the safety net for health care is fragile and could become even more so if Governor Jerry Brown’s proposed realignment of Medi-Cal funds from the counties back to the state in 2014 is approved by the legislature.

Advocates and frontline service providers shared their fears at a recent news briefing in Los Angeles co-hosted by the California Immigrant Policy Center and New America Media.

Dr. Alexander Li, CEO of Ambulatory Care, Los Angeles County Department of Health Services, led the panel discussion saying, “Governor Brown is balancing the budget on the backs of the poor. Shifting $1.4 billion away from the county systems that provide care for the uninsured will put the county system under a lot of stress and potentially close the community clinics.”  

Advocates estimate some 3 to 4 million Californians will have no coverage even after health reform is fully implemented on Jan. 1, 2014. “It’s a mistake to assume that the majority of those are undocumented. The undocumented do not benefit from the provisions of the Affordable Care Act, and neither do permanent legal residents who are under the five-year bar,” explained Nancy Gomez, Southern California Director of Health Access.

There’s some hope that federal immigration reform could make a difference, at least to the immigrant population that does not qualify for health care under ACA, but it's a long shot.

One of the groups that could be most vulnerable if the county health care funding dries up is young immigrants, according to advocates. Betsy Estudillo, a former undocumented student and now second year student at Luskin School Public Affairs, worries particularly about access to mental health services.

“If we have a challenge in providing care for uninsured people," she said, "how is it going to look now that the budget is going to be cut? These community health centers won’t have the funding and the resources to provide services.”