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Merced residents discuss health for undocumented residents with Adam Gray

Alejandro Delgado, 15, shares the story of a family member who struggled to pay medical bills after an accident during Thursday’s Health for All forum at Mount Pisgah church. The family member, Delgado said, was not eligible for health coverage because of immigration status.
Alejandro Delgado, 15, shares the story of a family member who struggled to pay medical bills after an accident during Thursday’s Health for All forum at Mount Pisgah church. The family member, Delgado said, was not eligible for health coverage because of immigration status. aibarra@mercedsun-star.com

Merced organizers and community members continue efforts to seek health coverage for undocumented residents – a move they call a “basic human right.”

On Thursday, about 100 people gathered at Mount Pisgah AME Zion Church in south Merced to share testimonies and concerns in front of Assemblyman Adam Gray, D-Merced.

Residents asked Gray for support in getting Senate Bill 4, also known as the Health for All bill, through the state Assembly.

Currently, people who are in the country illegally are excluded from the federal Affordable Care Act.

SB 4, which is scheduled to be reviewed in the Assembly next week, would allow eligible undocumented children to receive Medi-Cal coverage and undocumented adults to purchase insurance through Covered California without subsidies.

The bill’s author, Sen. Ricardo Lara, D-Bell Gardens, had to scale back the proposal, limiting Medi-Cal enrollment to children, for example, to get it through the Senate. In June, Gov. Jerry Brown set aside $40 million in the state’s budget to pay for health coverage for undocumented children.

Gray shared his support for providing coverage for undocumented youths but reminded Merced residents that there is a bigger problem: the shortage of providers.

If there are no doctors, clinics or hospitals that can take new patients, he said, having coverage doesn’t make much of a difference.

“To give someone an insurance card, knowing they won’t be able to find a doctor, is a false promise,” he said. “Access has to be available in every community, including ours.”

Gray spoke about long-term solutions to the provider shortage, including ongoing efforts to establish a medical school at UC Merced and expand the San Joaquin Valley PRIME program, a medical education program that aims to train the next generation of physicians in the Valley.

Assembly Bill 174, authored by him and Sen. Anthony Cannella, R-Ceres, appropriates about $1.2 million annually to the San Joaquin Valley PRIME program and allocates funding to allow UC Merced to conduct the necessary research to submit a medical school proposal to the UC Board of Regents. The bill has cleared the Assembly and awaits action in the state Senate.

Thursday’s event was the second community forum organizers put together in south Merced. In May, the first forum gathered more than 250 residents, where representatives from Gray and Cannella’s office heard similar testimonies.

Blanca Lozano Davila of Delhi was one of those in attendance Thursday. She said that although she is a U.S. citizen and has health coverage, she knows many who don’t.

“We have to support our friends and neighbors,” she said. “We’re all human, and we all need to be healthy.”

Crissy Gallardo with the Merced Organizing Project said forums like Thursday’s allow for dialogue between residents and elected officials, especially on a hot-button issue like health coverage for the undocumented.

Gallardo said a Health for All committee formed of community stakeholders will continue to meet with Gray in an attempt to address residents’ questions and concerns.

Ana B. Ibarra: 209-385-2486, @ab_ibarra

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