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Calif. Endowment Announces Funding To Help Undocumented Get Health Care

— On the heels of Gov. Jerry Brown's proposal to spend $350 million implementing federal health reform in California comes another announcement. The California Endowment announced Thursday it has pledged $225 million toward implementing the Affordable Care Act in the state. And it's going a step further.

Special Feature Speak City Heights

Speak City Heights is a media collaborative aimed at amplifying the voices of residents in one of San Diego’s most diverse neighborhoods. (Read more)

Aired 1/21/13 on KPBS News.

On the heels of Gov. Jerry Brown's proposal to spend $350 million implementing federal health reform in California comes another announcement. A private health organization has pledged a hefty sum to help with the effort and go a step further. It wants to help undocumented immigrants get health care.

Endowment Senior Vice President Daniel Zingale said the private health foundation will spend some of the money on exploring health care options for undocumented immigrants, who are excluded from the health reform law.

"The one thing about Obamacare that, in our view, tilted too far into politics and away from the public health was its exclusion of about a million Californians on the basis of their immigration status," Zingale said. "So we're open to models of care that could fill that gap."

Zingale said improving health care for undocumented immigrants is a win-win for all Californians.

"We understand that people have very strong views on different sides of the national debate around immigration policy," Zingale said. "But when it comes to public health, the public health facts are clear: a state is healthier when we're all in it together. Threats to public health don't know or distinguish according to immigration status."

Currently, undocumented immigrants can purchase private health insurance on their own or through an employer. That ability could diminish under the Affordable Care Act if their employer chooses to participate in a state-run insurance exchange, which excludes undocumented immigrants.

The majority of undocumented immigrants, however, have no insurance at all. They get emergency care at hospitals, where ACA will cut by half funding to care for them.

It's a system that leaves undocumented immigrants with little to no preventative care. For multi-status families – in which some members are in the country illegally and others are not – it's especially troubling.

Norma Navarro and her daughter are undocumented, so they can't get the same level of medical care available to Navarro's son, who was born in the United States.

"This is something that hurts me very much," City Heights resident Norma Navarro, 28, recently told Speak City Heights.

Navarro and her 10-year-old daughter are undocumented, so they rely on spotty care at emergency rooms and low-cost clinics. Her 7-year-old son was born here and has access to regular checkups through Medi-Cal.

"I would very much like my daughter to have the same kind of privileges that her brother has," Navarro said.

Pete Nuñez chairs the conservative think tank, Center for Immigration Studies. He says providing care for undocumented immigrants like Navarro and her daughter is a drain on taxpayers and sends the wrong message.

"Whether the benefit is being provided by a private source or the government, that's problematic in terms of encouraging future illegal immigration," Nuñez said.

But Nunez said he can ultimately accept the Endowment's private pledge, with one caveat.

"If somehow this private money is going to be parlayed into taxpayer support, then that violates the current federal law, it violates public policy and it's just not a good idea," Nuñez said.

Endowment spokesman Jeffrey Okey said the Endowment will try to pair its pledge money with matching federal funds for general patient outreach and provider support. The majority of the pledge funds will be used to recruit and educate newly eligible patients and make sure there are enough primary care doctors to take them on.

For the undocumented population, Zingale said the Endowment's short term strategy is to better connect undocumented immigrants to services already available to them, and to shore up those services.

Zingale didn't rule out broader efforts to insure undocumented immigrants.

"In the longer term," he said, "we do envision a time when all Californians have secure coverage."

Speak City Heights is funded by The California Endowment

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