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Upsurge of suburban poor in Southern California discover health care’s Nowhere Land

By in Press Enterprise on February 9, 2018

By Kaiser Health News

By Elaine Korry, Kaiser Health News

The promise of cheaper housing brought Shari Castaneda to Palmdale about nine years ago.

The single mom with five kids had been struggling to pay the bills. “I kept hearing that the rent was a lot cheaper out here, so I moved,” she said.

But when she developed health problems — losing her balance and falling — Castaneda found fewer care options in her new town. Unable to find local specialty care, she traveled nearly 65 miles to a public hospital in Los Angeles, where doctors discovered a tumor on her spine.

Then she had to drive nearly 75 miles to the City of Hope cancer center in Duarte for an operation to remove the growth. The procedure left her partially paralyzed. “I walked into the hospital and I never really walked again.”

Castaneda, 58, receives Social Security disability payments and is enrolled in Medi-Cal, the state’s Medicaid program for low-income people. “There are no doctors available here,” said Castaneda. “I called every single one of them in the book, and nobody takes Medi-Cal out here.” Instead, Castaneda now sees doctors nearly 50 miles away in Northridge.

Suburbs in the United States, often perceived as enclaves of the affluent, are home to nearly 17 million Americans who live in poverty — more than in cities or rural areas — and growing demand for care strains the capacity of suburban health services to provide for them, according to a recent study in Health Affairs. Suburban areas have historically received a fraction of health funding that cities have, leaving them with inadequate infrastructure and forcing people like Castaneda to scramble for the medical attention they need.

The Health Affairs study found that about a fifth of the suburban poor are uninsured, and many who do have health insurance — especially people on Medi-Cal […]    

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