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NYC's working-class and immigrant residents look to benefit from Obama health care overhaul

(Photo: AP)

As President Barack Obama this week launches a last-ditch campaign to resuscitate health care legislation, many working class and immigrant New Yorkers say that reform can’t come quickly enough.

“A lot of people without insurance are dying. A lot of children are suffering,” said Geri Perez, 67, of Elmhurst. “Without health care, you cannot live. It’s No. 1.”

The stakes are high in the city, where one in six New Yorkers is uninsured, according to a 2007 report by the city health department. Hispanics and low-income workers are among those most likely to go without coverage, and one-quarter of New York’s 1.5 million Latinos are uninsured, the report found.

Reform efforts in Washington have been on life support for months amid bitter Congressional infighting and the election of Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.) to replace the late Democratic Sen. Edward Kennedy, a health care champion.

“It’s definitely disheartening because the momentum stopped right after the election” of Brown, said Jenny Rejeske, health advocacy coordinator of the New York Immigrant Coalition.

Obama’s plan to reveal his own proposal Monday and a bold bipartisan summit set for Thursday have renewed hopes, but Rejeske warned, “It gets harder and harder — the more we wait to do anything — for immigrants.”

S. Ashiq, once a doctor in his native Bangladesh, knows this well. Now 67 and a Queens security guard, he can’t afford to treat his diabetes and hypertension on his paltry salary.

“If something happened to him, whose fault is that?” asked Ayaz Ahmad, director of health services of the South Asian Council for Social Services. “He’s a legal permanent resident, he’s paying taxes, and he’s not getting anything back.”

Legal immigrants would be eligible for subsidies under both the Senate and House bills, which passed late last year and still need to be reconciled. Undocumented immigrants — an estimated 500,000 of them live in the city — have been a wedge issue, but would not gain under either bill.

Affordable insurance is imperative for Emil Uribe, a Bronx resident whose two foster brothers are ill but lack adequate health coverage.

“It hurts to see them suffer without proper care,” said Uribe, 20.

For Obama, this week may well be the last chance to achieve what once was his top domestic priority. The president also has joblessness at home and war in Afghanistan on his plate, and failure to push a bill through Congress could mean abandoning health care reform for years.

“I think he’ll drop it for a while and do something safer to get re-elected,” said Dawn Gilbert, 36, of the Upper East Side.

Nick Klopsis contributed to this story.

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