Two years ago, Merced resident Adelina Hernandez was forced to quit her job in the fields.
A sharp pain on her left side made it difficult for her to crouch down or do any heavy lifting.
She knew medical attention was necessary, but without health insurance, a clinic visit would cost her more than half a day’s earnings – something she and her husband, who also works in the fields, could not afford.
She found herself postponing medical attention, until the pain became unbearable, she said.
Hernandez, 38, is one of an estimated 24,000 undocumented immigrants in Merced County who are ineligible for health coverage under the Affordable Care Act.
Last week’s news that a proposal to expand health care to Californians who are in the country illegally had cleared the state Senate with a 28-11 vote, renewed Hernandez’s hope.
Senate Bill 4, which heads to the Assembly, would allow undocumented immigrants to purchase insurance through Covered California and provide Medi-Cal coverage for eligible undocumented children.
The Sacramento Bee reported that while support for SB 4, also known as the “Health For All” bill, is strong in the Assembly, a signature from Gov. Jerry Brown is not guaranteed.
Brown had previously expressed skepticism about the bill because of its cost, which, in early drafts, was estimated to be as much as $740 million a year.
The bill’s author, Sen. Ricardo Lara, D-Bell Gardens, scaled back the proposal, limiting Medi-Cal enrollment to children, for example, to get it past the Senate, The Bee reported.
Sen. Anthony Canella, R-Ceres, and Sen. Andy Vidak, R-Hanford, who both represent agricultural districts, voted yes on SB 4 last week.
By increasing access to preventive care, Cannella said, the strain on urgent care services would be reduced, creating healthier communities.
“SB 4 provides a common-sense solution to providing health care services to our immigrant population,” Cannella told the Sun-Star in a statement. “Far too often, those that do not have proper health care access rely on our emergency rooms to be treated for health issues, causing the state unnecessary costs.”
Mercy Medical Center in Merced last year recorded 66,000 visits to the emergency room, and hospital officials estimated about 60 percent of the visits could have been prevented.
Hernandez has not landed in the emergency room yet, but estimates that in the past year she has spent almost $1,000 on exams and medications. The pain keeps coming back, she said, and has not received a definitive diagnosis from doctors.
She does not know when she will be able to return to the fields, but she is optimistic that health care coverage will soon be a possibility for her, relieving some of the financial stress.
The work in the fields is arduous, Hernandez explained, it requires workers to be in good physical shape and healthy, but the truth is that most are not.
“There’s lots of (agricultural) workers who stay quiet about their illnesses,” Hernandez said in Spanish. “They don’t want anyone else to know. They’re scared they’ll get fired.”
She said farmworkers rely heavily on home remedies, but to little or no avail.
Last month, Hernandez spoke at a Merced community meeting in support of the statewide Health4All campaign, where she shared her story in front of representatives from the offices of Cannella and Assemblyman Adam Gray, D-Merced.
Crissy Gallardo of the Merced Organizing Project said that by sharing residents’ personal stories with elected officials, they hope to give them a realistic insight into the community’s needs.
“Undocumented or not, health care is an issue that affects everyone,” Gallardo said. “We want health for all to become a reality this year.”