BAKERSFIELD – Seven-year-old Lily stood on a chair near where her mother was speaking and wiped away her mother’s tears.
“My daughter has a right to live,” said Karina through an interpreter, choking over her words. “Because she has medical insurance, she has been able to get surgeries and therapy. . . . I want Medi-Cal to exist forever.”
The family came to the United States from their native Mexico three years ago, after doctors there told them that they could do nothing more for the congenital tumor on Lily’s left cheek. No matter how many more times they operated on it, they told the family, it would grow back and even prevent Lily from swallowing.
Lily is among the nearly 3,700 children under 19 in Kern County who transitioned last year from a limited health insurance program to full-scope Medi-Cal through SB 75, the Health Care for All Kids law. The law passed last year allows all children, regardless of their immigration status, to enroll in Medi-Cal, the state’s name for Medicaid, if they met all eligibility requirements.
Karina shared her story at a media briefing here April 21 jointly presented by New America Media, Clinica Sierra Vista of Kern County, Community Health Initiative and South Kern Sol.
Like her, hundreds of thousands of California residents are worried that if Republicans make good on their threat to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act (ACA), which they failed to do on their first attempt last month, they will be unable to afford health insurance.
Expansion of the Medi-Cal program under ACA allowed 95,679 adults in Kern County, or 10 percent of the population, to get health insurance, some for the very first time, according to the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research. It dropped the county’s rate of uninsured children to less than 5 percent.
Panelists at the briefing did not downplay the severity of the situation facing the country, but the message they tried to put out was that uncertainty in the future of health care should not keep them from taking advantage of existing programs, especially not in California, which has some of the strongest protective laws for immigrants in the country.
“Women who are pregnant are not showing up for appointments” because they are afraid of their immigration status, said Rachel Vizcarra, programs coordinator with United Farm Workers Foundation in Kern County.
She acknowledged that Kern is a conservative county, where the undocumented are not looked upon as a “priority.” Even so, safeguards in state laws will protect the information they put on their application forms, she said, a message that Eduardo Ramirez Castro, a post-bar immigration Fellow at CRLA Foundation echoed.
Edgar Aguilar, program manager of Kern County’s Community Health Initiative, said that he has seen poor families struggle to make a choice about who gets to see a doctor when more than one family member falls sick.
“For many families, lack of knowledge of safety nets that community clinics provide keeps them from accessing care,” he said.
Clinica Sierra Vista’s Bill Phelps, chief of programs services, said Federally Qualified Health Care clinics such as his will continue to act as safety nets even to those who can’t pay, “regardless of changes in the ACA.”
“But we will probably cut our hours of operation,” he said.
With the threatened federal funding cuts, Clinica, which has a total of 28 clinics in California, will stand to lose an estimated $7 to $8 million in federal revenue. It will have to scrap expansion plans that aim to ease doctor shortages in rural areas, Phelps said.
If the ACA is repealed, and health care spending is reduced as the Republicans want, the county could lose an estimated $359 million, with a loss in 5,000 health care jobs.
“Health care is not a commodity,” and we must continue to fight to preserve the ACA, Phelps said. Else, “we’ll all pay the price.” (NAM)