LA County Expands Access to Health Care for Undocumented Immigrants

The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors voted Tuesday to expand access to healthcare for residents who do not qualify under the Affordable Care Act, primarily undocumented immigrants.

My Health LA is a partnership between the county and local community clinics and health centers aimed at providing health care for every county resident. Clinics provide primary care services like screenings, physicals, chronic disease management and prescription medications. The Department of Health Services offers specialty care and more acute services. More than 150,000 residents get services under the program for free or at low cost.

Supervisor Hilda Solis praised the program as "one of the very few in the entire nation that exists that provides this kind of service."

The terms of the partnership between the county and health care providers have been newly negotiated under contracts that Supervisor Sheila Kuehl said would allow My Health LA to enroll more residents, expand to more clinic sites over the next few months and guarantee more timely access to care.

Under the new terms, patients must be able to get an appointment for routine care within 21 days. Some now wait up to three months for a visit.

Urgent primary care must be made available within 96 hours.

Kuehl and Supervisor Kathryn Barger recommended that the county also look at expanding access to substance abuse treatment and mental health care for My Health LA patients.

Free substance abuse treatment is available under the plan but is underutilized, so the supervisors directed staffers to explore why that's true.

Options are limited for treating less severe, but prevalent mental health issues like depression and anxiety and the board also directed staffers to look at sources of funding to expand available treatment.

"Many of the residually uninsured may be afraid to take advantage, to say that they even have such an issue, given what the federal government is doing looking at our undocumented folks," Kuehl said. "(And) if we're inadvertently creating barriers for members who want to access substance and treatment services, we need to understand how the barriers are being created."

Management of St. John's Well Child & Family Center says it is the largest provider of health services to undocumented immigrants in the U.S. and serves more than 25,000 county residents in the My Health LA program.

"This program is desperately needed," St. John's President and CEO Jim Mangia told the board. "This is a time when we need to be expanding immigrant health services. Our communities are under attack."

Mangia thanked the board and Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas in particular for helping strike a working compromise, but said he'd still like to see the county do more, including expanded diabetes care.

The board's vote in favor of the new contracts and in support of Kuehl and Barger's motion was unanimous.

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