After thanking board of supervisors members for their commitment to support heath care for Los Angeles County’s poor, Jim Mangia, president and CEO of St. John’s Well Child and Family Center, asked the people who came with him to the May 20 public meeting “to support health care for all” to stand up.
More than 400 women and men from across the county rose — cheering, clapping, shouting and raising their hands high in the air. The grass-roots commotion went on for almost a minute.
When the sea of bright blue shirts with ONE LA-IAF emboldened in white letters finally calmed down, Mangia pointed out, “We know that there are close to 400,000 residents who will not be part of the Affordable Care Act in the county. Now we’re asking the L.A. County Board of Supervisors to work with us to craft a proposal to increase funding so that we can serve those people who will not be covered.”
The community health-care worker reported that St. John’s had seen a recent 50 percent hike in services and patients walking through the door, with more than half having no health insurance at all — even with the expansion of the act. “We have the opportunity,” he said, “to be one of the first counties in the country to provide universal health-care coverage for everyone in Los Angeles County.”
Claretian Father Bruce Wellems, pastor of San Gabriel Mission, testified that increasing funds to cover the “residually uninsured” [undocumented residents] is “the right thing to do. It’s the just thing to do. It’s a good investment and will save money in the end. We think it should be done right, and we don’t want to create a waiting list during the year.”
Mary Jackson, a member of St. Brigid Parish and a South L.A. resident for 46 years, told the board of supervisors that along with other OneLA community leaders she had done ten enrollment events at St. Brigid, St. Michael and Holy Name of Jesus parishes, First AME Church, Augustus Halkins High School and other places.
“We enrolled over 1,200, and that was just South L.A.,” she reported. “But what was most heartbreaking was to meet and see hundreds of families in South Los Angeles who won’t have access to family health-care programs at all.”
Perhaps the most moving testimony, however, came from Fabiola Sandoval, a community associate with the nonprofit Maternal and Child Access. She said a survey by the community organizing group LA Voice in Boyle Heights found that 47 percent of local residents didn’t have health insurance, including one-of-every-four children.
“This need is overwhelming,” she declared. “I myself, personally, know what it’s like not to have health-care coverage. For the first two years of my young daughter’s life I didn’t have it. I didn’t have the resources, and it was frightening."
400,000 not covered
On Jan. 1 of this year, millions of low-income Californians had new health insurance options for the first time. But about 1 million undocumented immigrants fell into an uncovered black hole, the UC Berkeley Labor Center reported, being ineligible under the Affordable Care Act. In Los Angeles County, nearly 400,000 won’t benefit from the act.
Most are not only still barred from Medi-Cal, California’s health-care program for the poor, but also can’t go to Covered California, the state’s new insurance marketplace, to buy a plan — even if they pay full cost.
Los Angeles County has a program for the uncovered who fall through the residually uninsured crack called “Healthy Way L.A. Unmatched.” Right now it’s funded annually at $55 million. The testimonies at the May 20 board of supervisors’ meeting were all about adding another $95 million to bring the total to $150 million.
But Dr. Mitchell Katz, director of the county’s health department, has informed the supervisors that when Healthy Way L.A. re-launches as a managed-care system on Sept. 1, the health-care gap for the undocumented will be closed. No extra funding was needed.
Organizers of the board-room testimonies and rally beforehand who spoke to The Tidings, however, didn’t believe that comes close to being possible. And they have already scheduled a meeting with Dr. Katz.
Sister of Social Service Maribeth Larkin, co-lead organizer, pointed out that a significant expansion of the program must also involve significantly more funding, especially with the new plan emphasizing primary-vs-emergency care. She said the county has set aside only $55 million from it $20-plus billion budgets for a number of years, while the local immigrant population keeps growing.
“We have full confidence that these community clinics are going to be able to get the work done,” she explained. “St. John’s Clinic said that they can take another 100,000 people, but they have to have the resources in order to be able to do it. So we have to help Dr. Katz recognize that this is not all on his shoulders in terms of the county clinics picking all this up.
“Now, people are going to the emergency room. That’s where they get referred to because they’re not enrolled in a medical plan at a community clinic. Therefore, they’re not getting primary care. And it’s enormously more costly to get treated in the ER than it is if you’ve got a primary care physician who knows you and your history and can follow up and take care of you. It’s a wellness approach, as opposed to a crisis approach.”
After the testimonies from ONE LA-IAF leaders, Father Auturo Corral was waiting with his St. Thomas the Apostle parishioners to board a yellow school bus for the ride back to his church on Pico Boulevard.
“We came here,” said the pastor, “to ask the board of supervisors to expand the budget for health care in the county for clinics, especially for people who do not have the possibility to receive insurance from the Affordable Care Act, especially the undocumented. But it’s also to extend to all the people in our parishes, communities who cannot afford health-care insurance from the federal government.
“We want to expand preventative care in the clinics and not only receive emergency care,” he added. “It’s a problem at St. Thomas, and that is why other parishes are coming together in the archdiocese, because there are many who have the same situation.”