Merced project seeks health coverage for all uninsured

Almost 21 years ago, Adriana Flores left her hometown in Guadalajara, Mexico, to relocate to Livingston with her husband and 10-month-old son. Since then, Flores has not visited a doctor or sought any type of preventive health care service simply because she can’t afford it.

Flores, 41, now lives in Merced and is one of the 8,750 undocumented immigrants in the city who do not qualify for health care coverage under the Affordable Care Act.

The ACA excluded undocumented immigrants from insurance coverage provided through Medi-Cal and the health care exchange. In California, this means an estimated 1 million individuals are uninsured and ineligible for coverage because of immigration status.

However, people such as Flores do not lose hope that they, too, will one day be able to benefit from subsidized health care. To try to help make that happen, she decided to become a community volunteer at the Merced Organizing Project. MOP is a nonprofit that has recently joined the California Endowment’s Health For All campaign.

California Endowment is a private, statewide health foundation whose mission is to expand access to affordable, quality health care for underserved individuals and communities,

According to MOP community organizer Crissy Gallardo, the Health For All campaign is an effort to spur discussions throughout the state about providing health care solutions for those who are still uninsured.

In February, Sen. Ricardo Lara, D-Bell Gardens, introduced Senate Bill 1005, also known as the Health For All Act.

Under the bill, the state would expand Medi-Cal coverage to undocumented immigrants whose incomes are 138 percent below the poverty level, or about $32,000 a year for a household of four. Undocumented immigrants who make more than that would be able to purchase insurance offered through a separate new health benefit exchange.

Being eligible for low-cost health insurance would take a huge burden off of Flores’ shoulders.

It has been seeing her 21-year-old son, who is also undocumented and uninsured, struggle because of the lack of health insurance. According to Flores, the last time her son visited a doctor was to get mandatory shots before entering kindergarten.

“Last year, my son suffered from anxiety attacks, and maybe even depression. We would make doctor appointments, but as soon as I would see him get a little better, I would cancel those appointments because I was afraid of what it would cost us,” Flores said in Spanish. “It’s really difficult not being able to provide the basic medical needs to your only son.”

Flores’ son is now a Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals recipient. DACA provides undocumented students who meet certain criteria temporary status and work authorization for two years. DACA recipients are not allowed to purchase coverage from Covered California, but they may qualify for Medi-Cal, depending on their family’s income.

Similarly, Ana Maria Fabian, 46, who has been volunteering as a MOP community leader for three years, has not received any type of medical attention in over a decade.

“I’ve been living in this country for 17 years now and the only times I’ve gone to a hospital or a doctor’s office is when I was pregnant with my two children, who are now 12 and 15,” Fabian said in Spanish. “I haven’t visited a clinic for regular checkups since then, so I have no idea how my health is. But I’m not the only one. I know many of other people who are in a similar situation.”

MOP will join other groups from across the state at the first hearing of the Health For All Act in Sacramento. will be heard by a Senate health committee at 1:30 p.m. on April 30.

According to Gallardo, the next step for the campaign in Merced is reaching out to county supervisors for support.

“It’s really important for us to receive the community’s support,” Gallardo said. “Many people are afraid to speak out, but it’s important that we do so. By ensuring everyone has access to health care, we can better the health of our entire community.