(Cross-posted from New American Media)
SACRAMENTO – Irma Montoya, 53, had to wait for three years to get her hip replaced. Her severe pain finally triumphed over her fear of deportation and prompted her to seek the medical care she needed.
Montoya still needs access to health care because she has been diagnosed with diabetes and cancer, but she’ll have to wait for treatment because the hospital has placed her on a waiting list, said her son, Alessandro Negrete.
“I can’t wait to see the bill passed,” said Negrete, 31. “The first thing I’ll do when it happens is get my mom checked for everything and get myself a physical, too. I haven’t had a proper doctor’s visit since I was seven years old.”
Negrete was speaking about a bill introduced by Sen. Ricardo Lara, D-Bell Gardens, which will allow California to fund an expansion of health care to cover its low-income residents who are living here without documents.
The measure would establish a state-run exchange for undocumented immigrants earning $15,000 or less a year per person to purchase health care. It would also given them access to the state-funded-only Medi-Cal program.
The landmark 2010 Affordable Care Act left out the country’s undocumented residents. In California, an estimated one million undocumented people have no access to health care.
Yesterday, SB 1005, called the Health for All Act, moved out of the state Senate Health Committee on a 6-to-1 vote and is now headed to the appropriations committee. About half a dozen undocumented immigrants, including Negrete and his mother, offered moving testimonials at the hearing, drawing upon their own experiences on why every Californian should have access to health care. Negrete spoke in English; his mother in Spanish.
Earlier in the day, about 150 immigrants and their supporters staged a spirited rally on the west steps of the Capitol, demanding that no Californian should be denied health care just because he or she is undocumented.
“Access to health care is a fundamental right for everyone,” said Sen. Holly Mitchell, D-Los Angeles, even as she warned those rallying in 90-degree temperatures that getting the bill passed would be an “uphill battle.”
Frequent chants of “Fight, Fight, Fight, Health Care is a Right,” filled the grounds, as immigrant rights supporters, some wearing “Health4All” T-shirts carried banners that expressed their sentiments.
Assemblyman Rob Bonta, D-Oakland, said that California’s reputation as an inclusive state is diminished by shutting out undocumented workers from the ACA simply because they were not born in this country.
Reshma Shamasunder, executive director of the California Immigrant Policy Center, drove the “undocu-care-van” on the last leg of its 600-mile weeklong journey across the state to the Capitol.
The van stopped at various places to hold town hall meetings to win public support for Lara’s bill. She said sponsors of the bill and immigrant and health care rights groups like hers are now busy working out “cost issues associated with the bill.”
At yesterday’s hearing, Sen. Lara said he’s working on the premise that the bill will actually reduce the burden on taxpayers.
“We know we are going to save money because we are going to get people out of the emergency rooms,” he said.