Kathleen Miles, 5.04.12

In a program believed to be the first of its kind in the nation, a restaurant workers’ group and Los Angeles community clinic have teamed up to provide inexpensive health care coverage to undocumented immigrants.

The program, called ROC-MD (Restaurant Opportunities Center-MD), offers uninsured restaurant workers $25-a-month preventive and primary care at one of several clinics run by St. John’s Well Child and Family Center, the Associated Press reports. Documented immigrants and restaurant workers who cannot afford health insurance are also eligible.

Restaurant Opportunities Center of Los Angeles spokeswoman Mariana Huerta says about 75,000 restaurant workers in the city are uninsured because of their undocumented status, FOX News reports. Because workers are uninsured, it can be difficult to get medical attention when they fall ill.

“Restaurant workers are preparing, serving and cooking our food,” Huerta told TheLos Angeles Times. “So many of these workers reported that they go to work sick. That is a public health hazard for consumers.”

David Hayes-Bautista, director of UCLA’s Center for the Study of Latino Health and Culture, told the Times that the program saves taxpayer money. “Emergency rooms are the providers of last resort, and they are very expensive. If people can be provided alternatives, that saves everyone money,” he said.

The need for health coverage by undocumented immigrants is as clear nationally as it is locally in Los Angeles. In January, Oakland resident Jesus Navarro made national headlines when he was dropped from the kidney transplant waiting list because of his undocumented status, despite having private health insurance.

free four-day health clinic in the Los Angeles Sports Arena in October called attention to the estimated 2.2 million uninsured residents in the city, as thousands of Angelenos waited in long lines for hours to get into the limited-capacity event (photos below).

While the ROC-MD program may not be able to address national transplant policy, it serves to meet the needs of the undocumented immigrant population, which is not covered under President Barack Obama’s national health care reform.

ROC-MD started in Los Angeles last fall and was formally announced Wednesday.