May 12 2015

Across California, the voice of the people is growing louder: it’s time to provide health care for all. Due to the Affordable Care Act, millions of Americans now have health insurance and can now take comfort that if they get sick, they have hope and the peace of mind that comes with health insurance.

But millions of others still live in fear because there are gaps in coverage and if these residents fall through the cracks, what will protect them? About 3.5 million Californians are still uninsured, and approximately 1.5 million of these are undocumented residents who are excluded from enrolling in Medi-Cal and purchasing coverage through the state’s health insurance exchange.

A health care system that excludes anyone hurts everyone. That’s why advocates, community leaders and Merced residents are joining the effort and demanding health care for all. There are over 24,000 undocumented Mercedians, 54% of which are still living without insurance. Adelina Hernandez is an undocumented farm worker, who knows firsthand what it is like to live with no security. “We work under the sun day by day and I work in pain. I need health insurance so that I can continue to work and provide for my family.”

This is why we support SB4 by Senator Ricardo Lara because it will expand Medi-Cal to cover more than one million undocumented residents. SB4 would also allow those with higher income levels to use their own money to buy an unsubsidized private health plan through Covered California.

Critics talk about the cost of SB4, but it will actually save taxpayers money. Currently, undocumented residents can access federally qualified health care clinics and hospitals in emergencies, but these services are more expensive than providing undocumented residents with preventive health care. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the average primary care visit runs about $145, but a trip to the ER is about $1,349. Hospitalization costs much more. Prevention is more powerful than treatment and much more cost effective.

And let’s not forget we’re talking about human beings who work hard and help make California flourish.

We should not let the people who help drive our regional wealth suffer with poor health because they can’t get the treatment they need. In the Central Valley, undocumented residents are the backbone of the agricultural industry, which is worth billions of dollars to the state and the No. 1 economic engine in Merced County.

These hard-working families contribute and they pay taxes—about $3 billion each year. The local grocery store doesn’t ask them about their background when these families buy milk and bread. The store just takes their money.

These residents do their part. They support our state. Now, we need a health care system that supports them!

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