A vote against the plan to offer health coverage to undocumented immigrants in Merced County failed to gain support from supervisors on Tuesday, disappointing advocates.
Speaker after speaker at the hearing told the supervisors to support a plan to spend $700,000 for a year of coverage, but board members denied the proposal with a 3-2 vote. The "Health 4 all" plan remains in purgatory.
The plan supported by District 1 Supervisor Rodrigo Espinoza and District 2 Supervisor Lee Lor was estimated to be able to cover about 1,600 people, according to Kathleen Grassi, director of the Merced County Department of Public Health.
Merced County has about 25,000 undocumented adults, and about 27,000 people in Merced County of any immigration status do not have health coverage, according to numbers presented by Grassi.
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Daron McDaniel, supervisor for District 3, said he would not support the proposed plan because it only benefited the undocumented. "We're going to say undocumented immigrants here in this community will have access to health care, but the U.S. citizens who don't, don't have health care?" he said. "I can't stand for that. I represent everybody in my community."
After the meeting, McDaniel told the Sun-Star that more, better-paying jobs is the cure for the county's insurance ills.
Advocates said the supervisors were pushing back against an argument they're not making. People with documents have opportunities to get care that the undocumented can't access, according to LaVerne Davis, a specialist with Merced nonprofit Healthy House.
"I think there was a play on words as far as who the 'Health Care for all' covers," the Dos Palos resident said. "People who are undocumented don't have the (same) access to health care as the people who are documented. ... They only have certain services available to them, which is not enough."
The advocates said the idea is to give the undocumented the ability to choose to get coverage. Many of them are agricultural workers who pay income, property, sales and other taxes, advocates said.
Many of them are long-time residents who have contributed to the local economy for years, according to Paul H. Garcia, a Delhi resident. "They're investing their money on buying property, and paying taxes," he said.
Merced County's undocumented contribute about $9 million in tax revenue to the state, according to the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy.
A number of speakers at the meeting threatened to use their voting power against the elected officials who didn't support the plan.
With or without the support of local officials, the health care system is in a tricky position with President Trump's pulling of federal funding, according to Grassi. She noted that the state has also tried to provide health care for all of its residents, most recently with Senate Bill 562, but those efforts have failed.
"Each time that's been introduced, it's died because of lack of funding," she said.
District 4 Supervisor Lloyd Pareira said he could support a plan to provide coverage to undocumented residents, but the one on the table was incomplete.
The supervisors disagreed on what the vote would have meant with the three detractors saying the motion was to fund the plant, while Lor and Espinoza arguing the vote was only the first step toward developing a plan.
"We should be ahead of the game. Have a plan," she said