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Fresno County To Fund Health Care For Undocumented, Partially

Nov 5, 2014

Credit Fresno County

Undocumented immigrants may not lose access to specialty health care in Fresno County, after the Board of Supervisors approved a new $5.5 million plan on Tuesday. 

The move comes just months after the county voted to exclude those in the country illegally from accessing the Medically Indigent Services Program or MISP, a safety net program that had provided immigrants care for decades. 

The board voted 3-2 to accept an offer from the state that would fund the coverage. The deal, which was a approved by the legislature and Governor Brown earlier this year, give s the county extra time to pay off a $5.5 million bill that it owed to the state's road fund. In exchange for the temporary forgiveness, the county had to agree to use the money to provide access to specialty care for the undocumented. 

Supervisor Henry R. Perea, whose son Asm. Henry T. Perea drafted the legislation in Sacramento, said that while the funding isn't enough to provide everyone care, it's an important step towards a solution.

Perea:"I think our board has an opportunity, not to solve a problem, because this is just stopgap. It just buys us a little bit of time."

The new program will differ from the old MISP program in several key ways. First, the county would contract directly with federally backed clinics to provide the care, and would then get reimbursed by the state. In the old program, the county paid Community Hospitals a flat fee every year to provide the coverage. And since the funding is limited, the new coverage will be limited to short term care, and will last only as long as the funding does. 

Supervisor Debbie Poochigian voted against accepting the deal, which she called "one time money."

Poochigian: "Are we not in the same situation if we do that, that once it runs out, we don't know how long it will last, once it runs out we're done?"

Tuesday's vote also directed county staff to begin negotiations with the federally backed clinics to provide   care. The county's existing contract with Community Hospitals for the old MISP program will end on December 1st.

The county had been required to provide indigent care for undocumented residents due to a court order from the 1980's. Earlier this year, a judge lifted a portion of that requirement.