Protesters want Maryland lawmakers to expand health care to undocumented immigrants

Protesters want Maryland lawmakers to expand health care to undocumented immigrants

Protesters – later detained by police – who occupied the stone steps of the State House in Annapolis on Friday morning to demand health care for undocumented immigrants want lawmakers to know Santos Romeo’s name.

Thus, in the last days of a legislative session where a bill to extend spitting care, organizers long focused on the issue amplified their message. As senators arrived for final talks before session ends on Monday, the group of protesters chanted “Health for All,” while wearing signs that included a tribute to Romeo, an undocumented woman who they say died of complications from diabetes earlier this year.

In a few minutes, four officers handcuffed the protesters, whose voices filled the air as arriving lawmakers avoided the incident or headed for a basement entrance to avoid the protest. Nick Cavey, spokesman for the Maryland Capitol Police, said seven people were charged with refusing to leave a public building and failing to obey a police order to move their protest.

The proposal at issue would allow undocumented immigrants to purchase health insurance through the state exchange, a policy change that state analysts say would lead to coverage for about a third of the undocumented population. state, or 82,500 people. The move would add Maryland to a small number of states targeting the group in an effort to close gaps in health care access — a goal that has faced headwinds in Congress.

Proponents say the proposal aligns with Gov. Wes Moore’s goal to eliminate child poverty and would reduce block premiums and free hospital care for uninsured people. But instead of passing a bill that would open up the insurance market, which would require a federal waiver, lawmakers instead approved legislation that asks the Maryland Department of Health and the Maryland Health Benefit Exchange to study options for the health care needs of undocumented immigrants to guide their work forward.

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“One of the things we don’t want to do is put the cart before the horse,” Senate Finance Chair Melony Griffith (D-Prince George’s) said last week. “We want to make sure that we meet the needs of our most vulnerable in a way that we can afford so as not to cause unintended consequences or overburden the state’s fiscal resources.”

The state estimates that expanding coverage eligibility would cost $550,000 in fiscal year 2025 for initial implementation costs and $250,000 per year for at least three years thereafter.

CASA research and policy analyst Ninfa Amador-Hernandez said there is already enough data to show that opening up the exchange would be an appropriate first step toward covering 275,000 uninsured immigrants in the Maryland. The plans cost about $800 a month for a family of four without subsidies, she said.

The District, Washington State, Massachusetts, and New York City have programs to expand insurance eligibility, she said.

“This action was necessary due to the inaction of the Senate leadership to ensure that this bill is prioritized and on course for passage. We haven’t heard any guarantees that this bill is a priority,” she said in a phone interview on Friday.

Protesters advocating efforts to expand health care to undocumented immigrants were arrested on the steps of the Statehouse in Annapolis on April 7. (Video: Ovetta Wiggins/The Washington Post)

Jossie Flor Sapuna, spokesperson for CASA Maryland, said protesters included a 22-year-old woman who was at risk of arrest for remembering her father, Edgar, who died during the coronavirus pandemic.

“I risk being arrested for him and Marylanders like him who don’t have health insurance. I honor my father with this sacrifice,” said Emely Deleon, a CASA organizer from Baltimore City.

The protesters were all US citizens, said Flor Sapuna, adding that they had less to fear from the cascading repercussions of a possible arrest than people whose immigration status was in question.

The protest came a week after CASA held a rally in Annapolis to urge the Senate to act on the bill and shine a light on women who shared stories about the cost of living without insurance.

Then Jeanette Kenne, 60, sat on the marble stone outside the State House, nursing a calf injury as protesters marched and chanted in Spanish and English, pleading with lawmakers to act.

Kenne, an undocumented Cameroonian immigrant, said she was not seeing a doctor because she was uninsured. She has a mountain of medical bills from her ER visits, where she lands when her natural remedies fail to relieve her pain.

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“The disease doesn’t discriminate, it doesn’t care about your immigration status,” she told the crowd as she waved pink, yellow and neon green signs that read, “How can we fight the cancer without health care” and “Our families are dying”.

Kenne, who lives in an apartment in Takoma Park, came to the United States 20 years ago and worked as a truck driver, housekeeper and healthcare provider for homebound patients, he said. she stated. But in recent years, his failing health has limited his ability to work.

Her health problems began 16 years ago when she learned she had blood clots in her lungs. Now, she says, she has a calcified granuloma that prevents her from carrying things or standing for long periods. She also developed a leg ulcer and had pneumonia as well as diabetes.

Without a doctor, she learned about all of her conditions in an emergency room.

“In fact, Google is my doctor,” she said. “When I have a problem, I just go to Google and Google will tell me what to do naturally.”

Three weeks ago, she said, she nearly passed out while at a food bank and was rushed to hospital where she spent eight hours. Hospital staff gave her some paperwork to fill out, she said, but she doesn’t have the paperwork to seek help.

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