A Community Seeks Answers, Assurances About Health Care

Mary Thach, left, and her translator Diane Cao, right, at the Oakland Asian Cultural Center in Oakland, Calif., on Wednesday, May 31, 2017. Thach had the entirety of her $69,000 throat surgery paid for by Medi-Cal. (Kellen Browning/California Healthline)

OAKLAND, Calif. (Kaiser Health News, June 6,2017): — Ten years ago, Mary Thach unexpectedly needed throat surgery to improve her breathing and spent two weeks in the hospital. Her bill: $69,000.

Her first reaction was panic, said Thach, speaking through a Vietnamese interpreter. Uninsured at the time, she had no idea how to come up with the money. Then she learned from the hospital staff that as a low-income legal resident, she qualified for Medicaid, which ultimately paid the bill.

At a recent community meeting in this city, the 54-year-old Alameda resident teared up as she expressed her fear of losing Medicaid (known as Medi-Cal in California) under the Republican-sponsored American Health Care Act. The Congressional Budget Officeestimates could lead to the loss of health coverage for 23 million Americans.

“I’m scared that Mr. Trump will cut Medi-Cal. How will I take care of my health?” Thach said.

Facing concerns over immigration and GOP-led efforts to dismantle the Obama administration’s signature health care law and cut Medicaid, community groups in Oakland, Bakersfield, Fresno, Houston and other cities with large immigrant populations are holding meetings to allay fears, debunk myths and inform people of their rights.

More than 400 people attended the Oakland forum on Wednesday sponsored by the Oakland-based clinic system Asian Health Services. Some came to ask questions, others to share stories they hoped would motivate elected officials to help them. The room was so packed, a group of Chinese attendees had to observe from an overflow room. Most participants were middle-aged or senior citizens, many with notebooks and pens in hand.

With the help of headphones and a tableful of interpreters, the meeting was translated in 10 different Asian languages, including Cantonese, Mandarin, Mongolian and Korean and Tagalog. Questions were fielded by Asian Health Services staff, local politicians and an immigration attorney, who gave advice on interacting with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials.

Some attendees feared the use of government programs like Medi-Cal and CalFresh (food stamps) could prompt ICE inquiries or deportation. The attorney, Nancy Wong with Asian Pacific Islander Legal Outreach, said she’d seen no evidence of that and urged the audience to continue using those programs for now.

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