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Medicare for All Would Guarantee Health Care for the Undocumented

Desperate for Covid Care, Undocumented Immigrants Resort to Unproven Drugs
New York Times
June 20, 2021
By Amy Maxmen

“It’s disappointing but not surprising” that people living below the poverty line have spent large sums of money for unproven treatments for Covid-19, said Rais Vohra, the interim head of Fresno County’s health department. “People are desperate and bombarded with misinformation and may not have the skills, time or context to interpret medical evidence.”

During the pandemic, many immigrants shut out of mainstream health care have turned to such markets for Covid-19 treatments. About 20 percent of Hispanic people in the United States lack health insurance, and the proportion is far higher among undocumented immigrants.

What’s more, some immigrants mistrust doctors who don’t speak their language or who treat them curtly — and those concerns have been amplified by harsh political rhetoric directed at Mexicans and Central Americans.

“My community fears that the government might be trying to get rid of us,” said Oralia Maceda Méndez, an advocate at a Fresno-based community group for Indigenous people from Oaxaca, Mexico. She has heard many stories from immigrants in her community who treat themselves for Covid-19 with penicillin, other antibiotics or a mix of vitamins and herbal therapies bought from shops or travelers selling medications bought in Mexico.

“I am not surprised that people are taken advantage of,” she said. “We don’t have the care we need.”

Comment by Eagan Kemp

Barring undocumented immigrants and workers from getting health care is cruel and inhumane. As the cited NYT article notes, the COVID-19 crisis has further exacerbated the costs and dangers of lacking health insurance in America. This is particularly severe for undocumented workers in frontline industries where they are unable to social distance. Even before the pandemic, almost half of undocument immigrants were uninsured, placing them at risk for financial ruin if they got sick. 

It may also be suicidal — lack of regular medical care will prevent many from getting the COVID-19 vaccine. We must protect everyone from even more dangerous COVID-19 variants through inoculating a sufficient percentage of people in the U.S. and around the world.

And while undocumented immigrants make up only around 3 percent of the U.S. population and 4.4 percent of the workforce, they are make up a large share in certain industries, including some deemed essential during the COVID-19 crisis. 

For example, more than half of all agricultural workers are undocumented, many of whom were deemed essential during the COVID-19 crisis, placing them at increased risk for the virus. Similarly, around 40 percent of workers in meatpacking plants in the U.S. are reported to be undocumented, with many unable to effectively social distance or fight for better worker protections. 

Of the policy reforms under consideration by Congress, only Medicare for All would guarantee all necessary health care to all undocumented immigrants, by finally treating health care as a human right instead of as a means for profit. 

No one in the U.S. should be forced to go without health care, especially the COVID-19 vaccine. And leaving immigrants to fend off the medical vultures seeking to exploit them and take their money is no solution at all. We need reform now.

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