Clinic Brings Attention to Health Coverage for Undocumented Residents
Debate over whether a Vallejo community clinic should treat undocumented immigrants is shedding light on national discussions about health care reform and immigration policy, the Wall Street Journal reports.
According to the Pew Hispanic Center, about 50% of the country's undocumented immigrants lack health insurance.
Undocumented residents and others without health coverage often seek care at hospital emergency departments. Although emergency department care generally costs significantly more than treatment at a community clinic, hospitals are required by law to treat all patients, regardless of ability to pay.
Between 1996 and 2006, ED visits increased by 32% nationwide.
Sutter Solano Medical Center led the charge to establish the Vallejo clinic because it sought to curb the rising costs of providing uncompensated care to uninsured populations.
A nearby Kaiser Permanente Medical Center and the Solano County Board of Supervisors also contributed funding for the health center.
In November 2008, the not-for-profit health network La ClÃnica de La Raza opened the community clinic.
La ClÃnica charges about $85.50 per consultation, compared with the roughly $500 charge for a basic examination at the Sutter hospital.
Neither the clinic nor hospital EDs ask patients about their immigration status.
However, some Solano County residents have started criticizing the clinic for providing publicly funded care to undocumented immigrants. In response to such complaints, a county-appointed watchdog group recently released a report recommending that public contributions to the clinic "be limited to serving only Solano County residents who have proof of citizenship or legal residency."
The county's health director and board of supervisors have 90 days to respond to the watchdog group's report.
Solano County's debate on treating undocumented immigrants highlights contentious issues that could affect national discussions on health care reform.
Many reform proposals are focused on treating uninsured populations and curbing rising health care costs.Currently, a provision of the House's health care reform proposal prohibits the use of federal funds for treating undocumented immigrants (Jordan, Wall Street Journal, 8/15). This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.