2013 Equal Justice Works Fellow, Marina Pantchenko

Marina Pantchenko

Name of Host Organization: Bay Area Legal Aid
City, State: Oakland, California
Issue area: Health Care
Sponsors: Hewlett-Packard; Morgan, Lewis & Bockius LLP

The Project

Marina is improving health care access for indigent newcomer refugees in Alameda County through community outreach and education, policy advocacy, litigation, and direct client representation.

The Inspiration

Need Addressed By Project: 
The overwhelming majority of refugees resettling in Alameda County arrive from extremely unstable country conditions where they were subjected to displacement and extensive trauma. As a result, they are plagued with disproportionately high rates of chronic, but preventable, illnesses. Burmese and Bhutanese refugees in particular face poverty, staggering unemployment rates, and social and linguistic isolation upon arrival. Though initially all refugees receive eight months of medical assistance, virtually all single adults are disqualified thereafter. Under the terms of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), single adults are now eligible for health care coverage. Newcomer refugees, however, need help to navigate the hurdles to accessing public benefits and advocacy to ensure they remain eligible for assistance while beginning their new life is the U.S.
Highlights to Date: 
In the first year, Marina has:
• Successfully advocated for California to continue the Refugee Medical Assistance (RMA) program, which provides benefits for more than 5,000 refugees across the state
• Collaborated on an alert to refugee resettlement agencies in California advising them to pre-enroll refugees in Medi-Cal under the ACA to avoid gaps in health care coverage
• Launched thriving partnerships with community organizations and health care providers serving the refugee population in order to identify potential clients
• Collaborated on legislative and policy advocacy at the state and local levels to safeguard and enhance health care resources for refugees
• Trained pro bono attorneys from Hewlett-Packard and Morgan, Lewis & Bockius to participate in a clinic to help refugees transition from RMA to Medi-Cal
What's Next: 
In the next year, Marina plans to:
• Explore possible litigation to further expand access to health care benefits and language assistance for refugees
• Continue representing individual refugee clients with health care and public benefits needs
• Strengthen the project’s infrastructure and resources to ensure is sustainability

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