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Latino State News

HEALTH:Illness Doesn’t Ask For a Passport

For 32 million uninsured Americans, the recently passed Health Care Reform Bill  will bring long overdue health coverage to the low-income and uninsured. But in Pilsen, a neighborhood whose population is largely comprised of Mexican immigrants, access to healthcare may not come as quickly, if at all.

According to a recent article in Newsweek, the Congressional Budget Office approximates that 8 percent of U.S. residents will continue to be uninsured even after health reform is fully applied. What’s more is that those remaining without healthcare will be “disproportionately Latino” since the bill places restrictions on insurance for recent immigrants, despite legal or illegal status.

In a community that is about 94 percent Hispanic (2000 U.S. Census), this statement has serious implications and many people living in Pilsen will still be without health insurance.

But for Marty Sanchez, the community liaison and executive administrative assistant at Alivio Medical Center, located at 2355 S. Western Ave., the health care bill is nothing new.

“What the health care bill does, Alivio’s been doing for twenty years. We don’t turn anybody away. So if they needed healthcare, they were getting it here,” said Sanchez.

Sanchez explained that at Alivio patients pay based on what they can afford. Poverty and federal guidelines are used in a simple financial evaluation process set up through appointment only. Applicants will be asked to provide items such as a valid ID, proof of income, proof of address, etc.

“It’s based on your income,” said 24-year-old Ana, an undocumented Mexican immigrant who currently resides in Pilsen. “If you’re making a little bit more than the average Joe, it’s gonna cost a little bit more. But it’s still affordable [and] it helps you keep healthy,” she said.

Sanchez continually emphasized that people should not let the stigma that comes with a “financial evaluation” scare them away from coming to Alivio.

“We do not turn anyone away… never. We are also seen as a safety net. When you come here, regardless of status or income, you’re going to get served,” asserted Sanchez.

Carmen Velasquez, the executive director of Alivio, has a very clear mission that she’s been working towards for the past 22 years since she opened the medical center: to help the uninsured, the underinsured, and the working poor receive quality healthcare.

“Our hope is that the patients who don’t have insurance, immigrants in our community, especially in a predominantly Mexican community in which our community health centers [are located], identify us as their medical home,” said Velasquez.

Sanchez agreed in saying, “The swine flu is not going to ask you if you have documents or not. Cancer is not going to ask you. So we’re all impacted and they need a medical home just like anyone else.”

As someone with background in education, Velasquez firmly believes that healthcare is more than just a weakness in our governmental system; it’s an issue of social justice. “People have a right to access healthcare. It doesn’t matter if you’re young, you’re old, or if you’re an immigrant and you don’t have papers,” she said. “If you believe that all of us are created equal, there shouldn’t be any difference between whether I was born in this country or I’m black or I’m brown or I’m Polish-speaking [or] Spanish-speaking.”

Velasquez also pointed out that by not including undocumented and recent immigrants in the health care bill, the U.S. is digging itself into an even deeper financial hole. “[Immigrants] will continue to go to emergency rooms [and] it will cost more money in the long run for society to pay for their healthcare,” she said.

Alivio is not the only center in Pilsen that offers affordable care. Many clinics in the neighborhood provide services at a reduced rate or on a sliding scale based on income.

Dr. Robert S. Glick of the Pilsen Foot Clinic, located at 1630 W. 18th St., offers his patients a reduced rate of about 50%. He’s been working in Pilsen for about 35 years and recognizes his decision to offer lower service costs as “part of being in the neighborhood. If I wanted to be in the suburbs, it’d be a different story,” he said.

At Pilsen Community Pediatrics, located at 2738 W. Cermak, Dr. David Anyadike believes that healthcare in Pilsen is overall more affordable because many of the medical practitioners in the area are realistic about the community in which they work.

“People charge what people can afford… most families are making less than [$50,000 per year] and most families [in Pilsen] have at least two or three kids, so you’re looking at five people or more who are living off of $50,000 a year,” said Anyadike.

Despite these facts, many Pilsen residents still avoid seeking regular medical attention in an effort to save money. “A lot of people just wait til they get sick and then they have to be seen in the emergency room when there are places like Alivio that they can come to,” said Sanchez.

But the reality is that by not seeking preventative care, bigger and more costly problems can be the consequence.

“If you do get really sick and you do go to the hospital, then it can become a big deal and you may have to declare bankruptcy because, depending on if you stay overnight, you can be stuck with a bill of thousands,” said Dr. Anyadike.

In order to push the community to schedule regular doctor visits, Alivio has created a grassroots outreach team called “Companeros en Salud,” or “Partners In Health.” Velasquez enthusiastically explained that the health care bill also includes funding for programs such as Companeros en Salud that involve health education and prevention.
To Ana, Alivio’s awareness program has really helped her stay on top of her health.

“That’s the benefit of having a place like Alivio, because if you are able to get [regular] health screenings… you might be able to find something and detect it early on before it’s too late, before you have to end up in the hospital paying 20, 30, 40, or more thousand dollars because you ended up in emergency,” she explained.

However, programs such as this can function as a double-edge sword. While they encourage people to get the care they need, some individuals working in medicine predict that they will also put a giant strain on the system.

As a pediatrician, Dr. Anyadike has first-hand experience with a pattern such as this. He explained that, “because of the fact that through the states, most kids are covered, you have more kids in the healthcare system. And so the pediatric system specialists are overbooked generally, so the system is basically at capacity.”

He then compared the adult system to the pediatric system. Because more adults will have access to healthcare, but the number of physicians will remain relatively the same.

“You’re going to hit more bottlenecks. So the health care bill is probably going to cause a lot more problems [and] a lot more waiting lists at every level,” he said.

As of this moment, the greatest issue that many universal healthcare and social justice advocates want to address is that of immigration reform.

And, according to Velasquez, the best way to implement change is to be an active member of society. “We’re trying to get everybody registered to vote so that our voice does count. This is a responsibility we all have to have. We need to participate in the political process,” she stated.

“Our mission is to provide healthcare for everyone, and that includes the undocumented,” continued Sanchez. “That’s why we’ll still be here, because we will always, always make sure that everyone gets the services that they need and deserve. The basic human rights of people are important to us.”

For any questions regarding the Health Care Reform Bill and how it affects you, contact either Senator Dick Durbin or Congressman Luis Gutierrez, both are pioneers on the front of immigration reform and healthcare.