South LA health resources still in crticial condition


South L.A.’s Umma Clinic | Shaleeka Powell

South Los Angeles has one of the most medically underserved populations in the country and lacks basic and vital health resources, even with the help of a handful of new clinics and the recent rollout of the Affordable Care Act.

Residents disproportionately lack high quality, accessible, affordable and comprehensive primary and preventive health care services, argues a petition from the South Los Angeles Health and Human Rights Coalition. The area’s mostly Latino and Black families earn a median income of roughly $35,000 a year, making healthcare costs a challenge. And undocumented immigrants, who make up about 40 percent of South L.A.’s uninsured, cannot sign up for coverage under Obamacare.

A handful of clinics, such as Umma Community Clinic, have stepped forward to help fill the gap.“All of our patients fall into the criteria of at least 133 to 200 percent below the poverty level and are either uninsured, self-paid or some type of Medi-Cal,” said Dr. Tipu Khan, the Umma clinic’s lead obstetrician. He said some Umma patients have entered the U.S. illegally and come to the clinic seeking help for long-untreated diseases.

Kevin Freman, a 24-year-old South L.A. resident, said there aren’t enough clinics in the area.

“Most clinics we have aren’t affordable and a lot don’t offer services people need,” he said, explaining that many people he knows have to travel many miles to find a clinic that will see them.

Juan Dominquez, a 50-year-old security guard who works at Umma, said the area has been underserved for a long time.

“People with less money always end up with less, but this is supposed to be an elite nation,” he said. “If a dog is sick, someone would care for the dog before [they would] a human.”


Dr. Tipu Khan | Shaleeka Powell

To a certain extent, the prevalence of early-onset diabetes, hypertension, high cholesterol and depression among South L.A. residents can be attributed to the area’s density of fast food restaurants relative to healthier grocery stores, according to Community Health Councils.

Kahn has seen this phenomenon first-hand. “I have multiple patients in my practice who are in their mid-20s and have been diagnosed with obesity and diabetes, which is definitely a higher rate than what you would see in West L.A. where you’ve got Whole Foods on every corner and areas to run that are safe,” he said.

The U.S. is a few years behind other industrialized nations like Canada and Japan in providing holistic and full spectrum health care, including preventative medicine, said Khan.

Provisions in the Affordable Health Care Act could change that if all goes according to plan. Within California, South L.A. has the highest eligibility rate, according to the Community Health Councils. Under the act, individuals and families who qualify can receive subsidized coverage through Covered California.

However, Khan said some South L.A. patients miss out. Their income is too high to qualify, but at the same time they cannot afford the $200 to $300 per month premium for Covered California. Instead, they may end up paying an $80 fine each year for not having insurance.

To Khan and the other physicians in his practice, health care access is sorely lacking in South L.A., and it is imperative for lawmakers to address this inequity.

Originally published on Neon Tommy. Reach reporter Shaleeka Powell here

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