UC research reveals undocumented youth are largely uninsured

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University of California researchers released two studies Tuesday detailing the accessibility of health care for undocumented students after the introduction of a state Senate bill aimed at providing health care for undocumented immigrants.

The studies illustrate the necessity and potential for health care coverage for undocumented youth by analyzing survey data collected from young adult immigrants across the state.

In one study, titled “Undocumented and Uninsured: Immigrant Youth and the Struggle to Access Health Care in California,” researchers from the UCLA Labor Center found that 69 percent of young immigrants are not covered by health insurance, even though 71 percent need access to a doctor. More than half had not seen a doctor in more than a year.

“These findings reveal a painful reality that often goes unacknowledged,” said Imelda Plascencia, project coordinator of the study and an undocumented immigrant.

Another report, a joint effort of the UC Berkeley Labor Center and research centers at UCSF and UCLA, detailed the health coverage of undocumented youth legally protected from deportation — participants of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program — and proposed policy solutions for immigration reform.

Solutions detailed in the report, “Realizing the Dream for Californians Eligible for DACA: Demographics and Health Coverage,” include comprehensive reform to help immigrants gain citizenship and expansion of their eligibility for coverage under the Affordable Care Act.

California Senate Bill 1005, authored by Senator Ricardo Lara, D-Bell Gardens, is a proposed solution to the lack of health coverage for undocumented immigrants in California. Dubbed the “Health for All Act,” the bill would expand Medi-Cal eligibility and establish a new health exchange through which undocumented residents could buy health care coverage. The bill’s funding and potential cost to taxpayers is still being determined.

“While we’ve made enormous strides to reduce California’s uninsured population … we won’t have a truly healthy state until everyone has access to quality, affordable coverage,” Lara said in a press release from Feb. 14.

Efforts to increase accessibility have been made in some counties, such as the implementation of Healthy San Francisco, which provides affordable health care services for the uninsured, including undocumented residents.

Even with increased accessibility, however, fear of deportation for undocumented immigrants or their family members can result in overall lower health care enrollment, said Ken Jacobs, chair of the UC Berkeley Labor Center.

Kim LaPean, communications manager at the Tang Center, said all UC students are extended coverage through their schools’ health insurances, regardless of immigration status.

LaPean noted that some undocumented students come from a place where they mistrust and are unfamiliar with health care, and the Tang Center has worked to ameliorate the issue by promoting access to services.

“We really believe that when the whole community has access to health care … the whole community is better off,” LaPean said.

Contact Angel Jennings at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @angeljenningss.