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On the heels of Gov. Jerry Brown’s proposal to spend $350 million implementing federal health reform in California comes another announcement. The California Endowment announced Thursday it has pledged $225 million toward implementing the Affordable Care Act in California. And it’s going a step further.

Endowment Senior Vice President Daniel Zingale said the private health foundation will spend some of the money exploring health care options for undocumented immigrants, who are excluded from the health reform law.

“The one thing about Obamacare that, in our view, tilted too far into politics and away from the public health was its exclusion of about a million Californians on the basis of their immigration status,” Zingale said. “So we’re open to models of care that could fill that gap.”

Zingale said improving health care for undocumented immigrants is a win-win for all Californians.

“We understand that people have very strong views on different sides of the national debate around immigration policy,” Zingale said. “But when it comes to public health, the public health facts are clear: A state is healthier when we’re all in it together. Threats to public health don’t know or distinguish according to immigration status.”

Currently, undocumented immigrants can purchase private health insurance on their own or through an employer. That ability could diminish under the Affordable Care Act if an employer chooses to participate in a state-run insurance exchange, which excludes undocumented immigrants.

The majority of undocumented immigrants, however, have no insurance at all. They get emergency care at hospitals, where the ACA will cut by half funding to care for them.

It’s a system that leaves undocumented immigrants with little to no preventative care. For multi-status families — in which some members are in the country illegally and others are not — it’s especially troubling.

“This is something that hurts me very much,” City Heights resident Norma Navarro, 28, recently told Speak City Heights.

Navarro and her 10-year-old daughter are undocumented, so they rely on spotty care at emergency rooms and low-cost clinics. Her 7-year-old son was born here and has access to regular checkups through Medi-Cal.

“I would very much like my daughter to have the same kind of privileges that her brother has,” Navarro said.

Zingale said, in the short term, the California Endowment will focus on connecting undocumented immigrants like Navarro and her daughter to services already available to them. The money will also help shore up those services so they’re better equipped to provide meaningful follow-up for patients, regardless of their immigration status.

Zingale didn’t rule out broader efforts to insure undocumented immigrants.

“In the longer term, we do envision a time when all Californians have secure coverage,” Zingale said.

The organization does plan to help legal residents with its pledge. The money will also go toward recruiting and educating patients who are newly eligible under the law, and making sure there are enough primary care doctors to take them on.

Megan Burks is a reporter for Speak City Heights, a media project of Voice of San Diego, KPBS, Media Arts Center and The AjA Project. You can contact her directly at meburks@kpbs.org or 619.550.5665.

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Disclosure: Speak City Heights is funded by the California Endowment. Voice of San Diego members and supporters may be mentioned or have a stake in the stories we cover. For a complete list of our contributors, click here.

Megan Burks

Megan Burks is a reporter for Speak City Heights, a media project of Voice of San Diego, KPBS, Media Arts Center and The AjA Project. You can contact her...

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