Deals boost healthcare for im­mi­grants in U.S. il­le­gally

Los Angeles Times - - THE STATE - By Soumya Kar­la­mangla soumya.kar­la­mangla@latimes.com Twit­ter: @skar­la­mangla

As Gov. Jerry Brown struck a bud­get deal Tues­day that would of­fer healthcare to chil­dren in the coun­try il­le­gally, Sacra­mento County su­per­vi­sors — sit­ting less than a mile away — also agreed to pro­vide med­i­cal care for county res­i­dents who lack pa­pers.

Speak­ing of a statewide cam­paign for uni­ver­sal health cov­er­age, An­thony Wright, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the ad­vo­cacy group Health Ac­cess Cal­i­for­nia, said, “It was a big day for Health for All, in Sacra­mento and in Sacra­mento,” re­fer­ring to Capi­tol Hill and the county.

Cal­i­for­nia law has long re­quired county gov­ern­ments to pro­vide healthcare to their poor­est res­i­dents, but only 11 of the state’s 58 coun­ties in­ter­pret that man­date to in­clude those who have en­tered the coun­try il­le­gally.

Ad­vo­cates hope Sacra­mento’s de­ci­sion to be­come the 12th county to do so will be a cat­a­lyst for oth­ers to fol­low suit.

“The whole state of Cal­i­for­nia is watch­ing very closely,” Sacra­mento County Board of Su­per­vi­sors Chair­man Phil Serna said be­fore the vote.

The su­per­vi­sors unan­i­mously ap­proved a plan that in­cludes $5.2 mil­lion to pay for pri­mary care and some spe­cialty care for un­doc­u­mented adults. Of­fi­cials es­ti­mate it will fund care for up to 3,000 of the county’s 50,000 im­mi­grants.

Sherri Heller, di­rec­tor of the county’s Health and Hu­man Ser­vices Depart­ment, said that the pro­gram — likely to be­gin this year — would give of­fi­cials a sense of how to man­age a sys­tem like this. “It’s a solid first step,” she said.

An­nie Fox, lead or­ga­nizer with Sacra­mento ACT, which spear­headed the ef­fort to ex­pand cov­er­age, said she would con­tinue to work with county of­fi­cials to cre­ate a sys­tem more rooted in pre­ven­tive care. “It doesn’t end here,” she said.

Even­tu­ally, Fox said, she hopes there will be a statewide pro­gram to pro­vide healthcare to im­mi­grants who en­tered the coun­try il­le­gally, who are barred from sign­ing up for Oba­macare.

This pop­u­la­tion now makes up the sin­gle big­gest group of Cal­i­for­ni­ans — about 1.5 mil­lion — still with­out health in­sur­ance. Though those pa­tients can visit emer­gency rooms and free clin­ics, health ad­vo­cates say giv­ing them ac­cess to more reg­u­lar check-ups can stave off se­ri­ous ill­nesses be­fore they be­come more ex­pen­sive to treat.

To ad­dress this is­sue, Brown and state leg­is­la­tors agreed to a bud­get Tues­day that in­cludes $40 mil­lion for public healthcare for chil­dren who en­tered the coun­try il­le­gally. An es­ti­mated 170,000 im­mi­grants 18 and younger could qual­ify un­der the ex­pan­sion.

The orig­i­nal bill pro­posed by Sen. Ri­cardo Lara (D-Bell Gar­dens) would have of­fered cov­er­age to the full pop­u­la­tion, but was whit­tled down af­ter it was priced at more than $1 bil­lion.

Ad­vo­cates say the two Sacra­mento de­ci­sions Tues­day could en­cour­age other coun­ties to cover un­doc­u­mented im­mi­grants.

Those con­sid­er­ing an ex­pan­sion in­clude Con­tra Costa and Yolo, both of which — like Sacra­mento County — once of­fered these ser­vices be­fore scal­ing back in 2009.

“Sacra­mento is the first county to re­verse its re­ces­sion-era de­ci­sion to no longer serve un­doc­u­mented im­mi­grants, but it won’t be the last,” Sawait Hezchias-Sey­oum, healthcare pol­icy ad­vo­cate with Health Ac­cess Cal­i­for­nia, said in a state­ment.

Al­varo Fuentes, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Com­mu­nity Clinic Con­sor­tium, which has been ad­vo­cat­ing for an ex­pan­sion in Con­tra Costa County, said he hopes the state’s de­ci­sion to of­fer care to chil­dren will press county of­fi­cials to cover the re­main­ing adult pop­u­la­tion. “This is an op­por­tu­nity,” he said.

In gen­eral, though, it’s hard to know how these re­cent de­ci­sions will im­pact county gov­ern­ments, said Amy Adams, se­nior pro­gram of­fi­cer at the Cal­i­for­nia HealthCare Foun­da­tion.

“There are 58 coun­ties in Cal­i­for­nia and there are pretty much 58 dif­fer­ent ways to han­dle in­di­gent care,” she said.

Lo­cal de­ci­sions are in­flu­enced by a com­plex and unique mix of fund­ing and pol­i­tics, she said. “Dif­fer­ent coun­ties make very dif­fer­ent choices, and I would ex­pect that to con­tinue.”

Le­zlie Ster­ling The Sacra­mento Bee

AU­DI­ENCE MEM­BERS ap­plaud at a work­shop held by Sacra­mento County su­per­vi­sors in March to con­sider op­tions for healthcare as­sis­tance to im­mi­grants in the coun­try il­le­gally. A plan was ap­proved Tues­day.

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