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article imageOp-Ed: Undocumented immigrants caught in the middle over health care

By Karen Graham     Jan 19, 2014 in Health
The new national health care law is supposed to allow people who have been ineligible to get health care coverage to now get health care. But there is a vast group of people in the U.S. who have been overlooked, particularly in California.
California has its share of economic problems, and to be sure, they have recently grown worse. Just the other day, Governor Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency because of California's drought conditions and water shortage. Agricultural interests in the state are now worried if there will be enough water to take care of the crops.
A dry riverbed in California.
A dry riverbed in California.
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
And this leads to the worries of taking care of the people who tend and harvest those crops, the state's undocumented immigrants. California has over 2.8 million undocumented immigrants living within its borders, and not one of them is eligible for Obamacare or Medi-Cal, the state's low-income health plan.
Generally, those immigrants in the state illegally have relied on free clinics, emergency rooms or county health systems. But with more and more people legally able to get insurance under the new law, it is leaving many officials in a quandary over what to do with those that are not eligible for insurance.
The problem stems from the various ways the state's 58 counties handle health care for those unable to afford medical insurance. For example, someone living on the outskirts of San Bernadino County who happens to be here illegally, can't get health care in the county. If they were to move a half-hour's drive away, into Los Angeles County, they could qualify for free county-provided medical care.
The California and Welfare Institutions Code reads that "counties be providers of last resort, that they relieve and support all incompetent, poor, indigent persons, and those incapacitated by age, disease, or accident, lawfully resident therein."
But many officials feel the mandate is a little vague, so there is a lot of disagreement over what any particular county will do or not do for someone here illegally, even though the requirements don't specifically exclude the state's undocumented immigrants.
Grape pickers. These workers migrate from field to field in northern Mexico and California.
Grape pickers. These workers migrate from field to field in northern Mexico and California.
Tomas Castelazo
One lawmaker, Democratic Sen. Ricardo Lara, the leader of the California Legislature’s Latino caucus, announced on Friday his plans to introduce a bill similar to the Affordable Care Act, that would provide health care insurance to undocumented immigrants. Lara's argument is that a person's immigration status should be irrelevant if the federal government wants every citizen to be insured. Lara also said, “Immigration status shouldn’t bar individuals from health coverage, especially since their taxes contribute to the growth of our economy."
We could expand the concerns lawmakers in California are voicing, to include undocumented immigrants all across the country. It comes down to deciding what is more economical, taking care of those who are now uninsured only when they get sick and have to use emergency services, or giving them access to low-cost health care insurance so they can receive preventive care, leading to a healthier outcome for the individual.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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