Health leaders discuss successes, challenges of Medi-Cal coverage

Photo/Anthony Victoria-From left to right: SAC Health Systems President Nancy Young, Executive Director of Behavioral Health Maryellen Westerberg, and Clinical Therapist Sara Saenz-Pavon.
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Providing medical treatment for low income and immigrant children is a scarcity that often leads to negative impacts, Perris resident Luz Gallegos argues.

The expected dismantlement of the Affordable Care Act by Federal Republican legislators has Gallegos and thousands of others in the Inland region distressed over their health.

“As a mother it breaks my heart that children are the most impacted,” Gallegos, an immigrant rights advocate with the TODEC Legal Center, said about the lack of health care access . “This will continue to happen.”

Several health professionals and community advocates came together Tuesday in an attempt to reassure immigrant and low income families of the progress made in providing mental and oral health treatment to their children, as well as give insight on the challenges that lie ahead.

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The two hour long gathering at the SAC Health System headquarters in San Bernardino featured discussions on the need for mental health support in disadvantaged communities, the effects of bad dental hygiene on children, and the expansion of Medi-Cal.

“This couldn’t have come at a better time for our community,” Gallegos said.

Senate Bill 75, passed by the California Legislature last year, extended health coverage to undocumented immigrant children under the age of 19. Families that meet income requirements receive free or low cost medical, vision, dental, and mental health services.

Photo/Anthony Victoria: Dr. Jason Lohr, Chief Medical Officer, SACHS.

According to SAC Health System Project Manager Liz Bayardo, a little over 14,000 undocumented children were transitioned into full scope Medi-Cal coverage in Riverside and San Bernardino Counties since the passage of the bill last May. Currently 230,000 adults from both counties are registered under Medi-Cal, according to a UCLA health study that Bayardo cited in her presentation.

Gregory Mitchell, SAC’s Executive Director of Dental Services, said he expected greater growth in the number of enrollees. Nonetheless, he remains optimistic regarding Medi-Cal’s potential in helping the region’s underserved communities.

“It may be because of the lack of knowledge or education,” Mitchell explained. “We’re anticipating more growth.”

SAC Chief Medical Officer Dr. Jason Lohr defined immigrant children as those born outside the U.S. or born to at least one migrant parent. He said two-thirds of these youth hail from seven states–California, Florida, Illinois, New Jersey, New York, and Texas.

Lohr said immigrant adults are more likely to face barriers to health care access due to low educational attainment, substandard housing, and income inequality. As a result, their children live under “toxic stress” that doesn’t allow them to perform adequately in school.

“This has a major impact,” he said. “No one in our community should live in fear for their health.”

California Partnership organizer Ipyani Lockert, who is a self-proclaimed health advocate for the African-American community, encouraged people to not shy away from discussing their mental health concerns.

“We want people to know it’s OK,” Lockert said. “It’s all about erasing the stigma that exists in our communities.”

For more information on how to apply for Medi-Cal health coverage contact the Community Health Coalition at (707) 565-4471.


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