Last year, Los Angeles County rolled out a new $61 million health care program for undocumented immigrants. It’s called My Health LA, and it’s designed to provide free, ongoing primary care, prescription medicines, labs, and tests.
In a departure from previous county programs, patients now choose only one clinic from about 200 community clinics and stick with it. The clinic is called a medical home, and for some patients, like 51-year-old Martin Machain, it’s like a home away from home.
“I don’t have a family here, so I feel that the clinic’s got my back,” Machain says. “They treat me right.”
A year in, patients say it’s keeping them healthy. Enrollment has climbed to 131,000 people, but that’s still less than half of LA’s undocumented, uninsured population. The funding falls far short of including everyone who is eligible in LA, and clinics only cover basic services in-house. The County’s Board of Supervisors has only budgeted enough to cover 146,000 people.
But regular checkups and prescriptions are enough to keep Machain coming back. He’s a diabetic with asthma and has kidney problems. He recalls the days when he had no other choice but the county hospital emergency room for no-cost treatment. Since My Health LA focuses on preventing and stabilizing problems before they get worse, patients can see a doctor every few months, not just when they have major health complications.
A recent USC/LA Times poll found that nearly half of California voters are against subsidizing health care for undocumented immigrants. But health experts say programs that fund preventative health care are more cost-effective for taxpayers than treating people in the ER.
“We could save more by giving people services up front, rather than waiting for conditions to appear and then dealing with it after the fact,” says Dr. Michael Rodriguez, a UCLA Medical School professor and public health expert.
My Health LA has become a model for other cities and counties. However, challenges remain in reaching the entire eligible population and offering easy access to services beyond basic care, including specialty and mental health care.