Not-So-Universal Health Care

Regardless of your personal thoughts on the new Affordable Care Act, whether you think it is compassionate care or government overreach, one thing is clear, factual and non-debatable: undocumented workers will not have access to health care insurance under this law. I don’t want to take this space to debate whether or not the law should allow tax dollars to provide services for undocumented immigrants. That’s a debate for another place and time. What I want to focus on is an issue that has mostly gone without discussion or concern: how will the new health care law affect undocumented Latinos?

Sadly, from what I can see, the impacts will be largely negative. It’s not that the undocumented Latino community will not benefit from the law and will remain unaffected; it’s actually going to take that community several steps backward. Let me explain. As more individuals are added to the MediCal rolls and other health plans, as mandated by the law, there will be a lot more people now able to access health care services. Of course, that was the purpose of the law. However, as more people access these services, they will quickly expend the incredibly limited health care resources available. There simply are not enough health care providers to cover everyone. These providers will take on more patients and many will simply not be able to take on charity or sliding-fee-scale patients, which cover most of the undocumented. The undocumented Latino community will be squeezed out, jeopardizing their access to health care services simply by the increase in demand for these services by a considerable uptick in more profitable patients.

Aggravating the situation is the general public’s misguided belief that the Affordable Care Act means that now everyone is covered and has access to health care services. If people believe this, they may stop contributing resources to non-profits who provide care for the uninsured, there may be less grant monies available to bridge this gap and there may be less organizations providing less services. After all, everyone’s covered, right?

So we will have overburdened providers less able to provide services to the undocumented population and less non-profits willing or able to help this community. All of a sudden health care isn’t looking so universal.

So what will happen? Unable to get preventive or primary care, my guess is that these individuals will be forced to live with any malady until their condition is exasperated to the point where a visit to the local emergency department is necessary. This means a less healthy population; increased cost for health care services, as they are provided in the emergency department and potentially minor issues have deteriorated to grave ones; longer waits at the ER; increased stigma; and a community unable to better itself and join mainstream America because of increased barriers to basic necessities.

Yes, there is still much to be debated about the Affordable Care Act, however, in the midst of arguments being thrown back and forth, we seem to have completely missed or overlooked this important discussion.

So what do we do now? The Latino Leadership Council will continue to provide as much health education as possible to keep our community as preventively healthy as possible. What happens if and when funding for these services starts drying out? I don’t know. Will the community step up and help fund programs such as these? Will physicians and nurses see this unmet need and help care for the most vulnerable? Will government officials look beyond potential voters and seek to remedy this gaping oversight? Will non-profits or churches step up, take up the mantle and assume care for this community? I hope the answers to all those are “yes.”

In the meantime, let’s at least join our voices and express this concern to those who will listen. Share your concern with others. Blog, tweet, Facebook, YouTube or write a letter sharing this challenge with anyone who will listen. If you’re in the health care field or in the position to meet or work with those who are, let them know. Until enough people start making noise, and bringing this issue to the forefront, a significant percentage of our Latino community—our neighbors, friends, family—will be left out and unable to achieve their full potential.

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