KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

California: Health Costs Send Many to Mexico for Care, Schwarzenegger Proposes Further Health Care Cuts

Almost a million Californians "cross the border to Mexico every year because they cannot afford the rising cost of health care in the United States, according to UCLA researchers," The Sacramento Bee reports.The study, published in the journal Medical Care, "affirms what has long been suspected – that the untamable cost of medicine is forcing many, particularly Latino immigrants, to look outside California for medical and dental care." The study was based on interviews conducted in 2001. The numbers "may actually be much larger" because the recession has increased the number of uninsured (Calvan, 5/27).

The San Diego Union Tribune adds that "most go to Mexico for prescription drugs and dental care, and a smaller number go for surgeries." About half of those who seek care in Mexico are Mexican immigrants, "a statistic that should challenge the popular notion of Mexican workers burdening California's hospitals and clinics by receiving all of their health care on this side of the border, said UCLA public health professor Steven Wallace, lead author of the new report." Another "half a million U.S. citizens living in California also seek health services in Mexico," often to purchase cheaper prescription drugs (Darcé, 5/27).

The numbers are likely to increase even further if proposed cuts to California's health care plans are enacted. The LA Times reports that Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) has sent lawmakers a plan to reduce "more than $5 billion in spending by dismantling or drastically curtailing state programs that provide Californians with healthcare, higher education, welfare, parks, AIDS treatment and counseling, prisoner rehabilitation and other services." The cuts are intended "to address a projected $24.3-billion budget shortfall," and Schwarzenegger may tack "another $3 billion in cuts by the end of the week."

The cuts could save California "$34 million by ending, among other services, treatment for breast and cervical cancer for illegal immigrants and women older than 65. AIDS patients would pay for more of their medicine, and the state would scale back testing and counseling for HIV, saving $55 million" (Rothfeld and McGreevy).

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