SAN JUAN CAPISTRANO : Armenian Legislators Visit Health Clinic

The high cost of health insurance. The moral and economic question of providing medical services to immigrants. The need to institute a national health plan.

Located halfway around the world, the Republic of Armenia is struggling with many of the same problems facing the United States.

On Monday, a delegation of Armenian legislators looked to a San Juan Capistrano clinic for help in developing a health system for the 2-year-old democracy.

At the South County Clinic, a physician and two members of the Armenian parliament toured the facility, listened to a presentation from clinic physicians and asked questions. Many questions. Enough so that a scheduled one-hour visit stretched to about 2 1/2 hours.


“We are a new republic and there is much to do,” said Hranovsh Hagopian, a deputy vice chair of the Supreme Council of Armenia, who is part of a legislative committee charged with creating a national health package. “We are studying President Clinton’s health plan and will be very interested to see how it works.”

The group was mainly curious about how the low-cost family clinic offers health care to the poor. How do the poor pay? What is Medi-Cal? Do you serve immigrants?

One of two community clinics in South County, the San Juan Capistrano facility serves 6,000 families, many of them immigrants, said clinic doctor Tom Bent. With the public and politicians debating whether the state should pay for providing health care to illegal immigrants, “that could change, which would be too bad,” he said.

Hagopian, whose country deals with outpourings of Iraqi and Iranian immigrants, leaned over a conference table and agreed strongly with Bent.


“That shouldn’t happen,” she said through a translator. “It’s important to help pregnant women in all cases.”

The delegates’ trip was part of a program started by Rep. Thomas S. Foley (D-Wash.), who championed an exchange of legislators from countries that were formerly part of the Soviet Union.

The Armenians have been in Washington and Orange County for the past two weeks, looking for help on a wide range of issues, from starting a banking system from scratch to revamping the country’s building codes.

“We wanted to get acquainted with the social and political system of the U.S.,” Hagopian said. “The U.S. pioneered many of these things, and we want to benefit from your experience.”