Undocumented Locked Out of Obamacare

26 Sep Undocumented Locked Out of Obamacare

Community clinics like St. John's Well Child & Family Center in South L.A. received a boost in funding from Obamacare, allowing them to serve more uninsured and undocumented patients. By Fermin Vasquez & Patricia Guerrero

Maria from South Los Angeles is struggling to find professional medical help for the two grandchildren in her custody. They suffer from a hereditary skin disorder known as epidermolysis bullosa simplex that causes blisters to form, requiring immediate medical treatment.

Maria and her grandchildren represent the face of the 11 million undocumented people in the U.S. who are left out of the new health care law. “Medical attention is not given to my kids because they were not born here,” Maria said about routine checkups. “Many of us are in the same situation.”

As Obamacare goes into full implementation in the coming months, and millions of the uninsured come into the fold of health coverage, the promise of Obamacare remains elusive for many immigrant families. Their legal status makes them ineligible to receive health benefits through public programs like Medicaid and bars them from applying for coverage through the state’s health insurance exchange — Covered California.

Under Obamacare, there is expanded funding for emergency care and community clinics that provide basic medical services regardless of immigration status. However, “in hospitals they only offer my kids emergency care, but they have not been seen by specialists,” Maria pointed out.

Despite the gaps in coverage for undocumented immigrants, advocates remain confident that health care is moving in the right direction.

“The Affordable Health Care Act (ACA) is not the perfect bill,” acknowledged Angelica Salas, executive director of the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles. “However, it is a starting point of a paradigm shift — access to health care is no longer a privilege but a right.”

And the work to fully bring that about needs to continue, Salas urged. “ACA should not be viewed as the end of the struggle towards ensuring affordable health care to all residents regardless of immigration status,” she said.

“It is in the best interest of our state to step up and provide coverage for those who were left out because a health care system works best when everyone is involved in it, paying into it according to their ability, and receiving ongoing preventive care that keeps simple problems from turning into costly emergencies,” Salas added.

Despite the ACA’s flaws, health reformers remain optimistic that more people will eventually get access to the care they need. Mario Chavez, director of community relations at the St. John’s Well Child & Family Center in South L.A., noted that community clinics like his have received a boost in funding to help them serve additional people regardless of their legal status.

“When the ACA was approved, there was a conservative push for no federal aid for immigrant people,” he explained. “The Latino caucus pushed to increase funding for community clinics. Since we don’t have the health care infrastructure, it is important to reinforce the community health care system.”

Chavez sees Obamacare as a steppingstone toward achieving universal health care coverage. “We need to continue to agitate by mobilizing the community,” he argued. “Republicans want to see this fail, [and] it is our job to make sure that the ACA is a success by including immigrants.”

As the struggle over expanding coverage to undocumented immigrants continues, Maria and her children will remain in the shadows, locked out of access to full medical services.


Vasquez is a communications specialist and Guerrero is a former community organizer with Community Coalition.

Follow Fermin on Twitter @fermin101

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