Dozens of community activists rallied Tuesday at a Santa Ana church to draw attention to proposed state budget cuts they say would dramatically increase the number of Orange County residents without public health care.
About 100 public clinic workers, grass-roots organizers and community members gathered at Our Lady Of Guadalupe Delhi Church to join a national observance of "Cover the Uninsured Week," a program launched this year by several national health-care groups.
The 30-minute rally featured public-health speakers and a "human billboard" made up of about 25 fourth-grade students from Santa Ana's Monroe Elementary School. The pupils held banners reading, "Cover the Uninsured." Three mobile clinics offered free health screenings in the church's parking lot.
Orange County Public Health Officer Dr. Mark Horton said an estimated 250,000 adults and 70,000 children in Orange County already lack health insurance.
Now, as the state grapples with a budget gap estimated at up to $34 billion, rally organizer Marty Earlabaugh-Gordon said, Gov. Gray Davis' plan to change eligibility requirements for Medi-Cal could push at least 40,000 more Orange County adults off public health insurance rolls.
Earlabaugh-Gordon heads the Coalition of Orange County Community Clinics, which represents 31 licensed public health clinics. Those facilities, already overwhelmed by current demand, will be among the few remaining options available to the needy, coalition official Isabel Beccera said.
"Right now [community clinics] have an average of a six-week waiting period," she said.
Horton, who addressed the crowd Tuesday, said it was difficult to predict the impact of health cuts at the county and state levels. "I don't know the exact number, but I feel the situation will worsen because of the budget concerns."
Earlabaugh-Gordon encouraged participants to lobby the governor and state officials to preserve access to health care.
Four proposed budget measures would cause the most harm, coalition leaders said. One would change the eligibility requirements for Medi-Cal. A family of four making $18,000 a year is now eligible for that health program, but Davis' plan would cut that limit to $12,000 a year or less.
Beccera called people with that income level extremely poor.
The governor has also proposed checking income and eligibility of recipients more frequently, reducing Medi-Cal reimbursement rates to providers of health care by 15% and eliminating 18 optional adult benefits such as dental care, chiropractic treatment and other services.
Maria de Jesus Aceves, a 53-year-old diabetic from Santa Ana who attended the rally, said she hasn't had medical insurance since her husband lost his job at an eyeglasses factory four years ago, and has to rely on public health clinics or seek service in Mexico, where her meager dollars go further. Health worries consume her, she said. "Because of nothing I cry.... The sickness is like a constant companion."