California on cusp of offering young immigrants health care

DOWNTOWN LOS ANGELES (KABC) -- When Christopher Sumano was recently sick, he says doctors turned him away because he didn't have access to Medi-Cal, the state's health care program for the poor.

If Gov. Jerry Brown signs the new budget passed by California's Legislature, undocumented immigrant children like Sumano will have access to Medi-Cal subsidies starting in May 2016.

For a child to be eligible for Medi-Cal, a family of four would have to make less than $59,925 a year.

"I feel happy because now I'm going to be able to go to doctors," Sumano said.

Sumano's mom, Alicia Arango, says this is very significant for her family. Arango says her husband works two restaurants jobs to support the family but that wasn't always enough when her son had stomach problems.

"Sometimes we wouldn't even pay the rent, and they'd charge us surcharges, but we preferred to pay the surcharge than for our child not to see a doctor," said Arango, who came to the U.S. nine years ago from Mexico.

Those who rallied in downtown Los Angeles Wednesday said it'll be cheaper for taxpayers.

"It's more cost effective to be able to provide people preventive care and give them the ability to have them see a doctor," said Betzabel Estudillo, Health Policy Coordinator at The California Immigrant Policy Center.

This will help around 170,000 children and cost taxpayers an estimated $40 million initially, and then $132 million a year when fully implemented.

Some Republicans want to spend that money on U.S. citizens.

"I wish we would concentrate on taking care of the immediate needs of our children from health care to children," State Sen. Mike Morrell (R-Rancho Cucamonga) told the Press Enterprise.

Advocates for the developmentally disabled are also frustrated by the budget. Some blocked access to the Capitol in Sacramento and others protested in downtown L.A. on Wednesday. They say the Legislature is not following through on a
promised funding increase.

"We do not find it morally acceptable to not care for those who can't care for themselves," said State Sen. Jim Beall (D-San Jose).

This hurts programs including the Tierra Del Sol Foundation, which help the developmentally disabled integrate into the workforce.

"Because we don't have the political muscle and the leverage, our voices are not heard in Sacramento," said Steve Miller, a former director for the Tierra Del Sol Foundation.

The developmentally disabled and their advocates have one more chance to plead their case in Sacramento when Brown hosts a special session next week to discuss healthcare.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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