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Undocumented immigrants are disenrolling from public health benefits out of fear that it may impact their chances to gain permanent citizenship after the Trump administration proposed a change to the "public charge" rule.

Napa families consider sacrificing health care to stay in America

Local nonprofits worry that a growing number of foreign-born residents are forgoing health care, fearing medical help could jeopardize their immigration status.

It’s difficult to quantify the number of immigrants who are choosing to decline health care because evidence is anecdotal. But OLE Health, the Napa Valley’s second-largest health care provider behind Kaiser Permanente, says it may have statistics that offer a glimpse into the problem. The organization serves many immigrants.

More than 900 OLE Health clients have disenrolled from Partnership Health Plan, a Northern California health care organization that manages benefits for 560,000 low-income residents on the state-run insurance plan Medi-Cal. Most of those patients were children.

“If you’re a citizen, that’s great,” said Elia Rubio, who educates patients for OLE Health. “But if you’re not, you will not access any kind of public benefit out of fear of hurting yourself in the long run for citizenship.”

Legal and health care professionals who work with local immigrants say the anxiety around obtaining public benefits, such as government-run health care, started to grow after the election of President Donald Trump in 2016.

Local health care professionals say the anxiety has grown significantly worse since October, when the Trump administration proposed to change the “public charge” rule that helps the government decide whether a person trying to enter America or obtain a green card may primarily rely on public dollars.

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