Health care and the pain of losing Medi-Cal coverage

A doctor examines a young patient at a hospital. (Photo: wavebreakmedia, via Shutterstock)

A few months ago, I turned 19 years old. Approaching the last year of my teenage years should have been exciting, but instead it was bittersweet. On my birthday, I lost access to my Medi-Cal coverage and all of the preventative health care services that it provided. I spent the days leading up to my birthday rushing to complete all of the final health check-ups I could fit in, before I lost coverage – possibly forever.

The thing is – I am undocumented. I didn’t even get access to Medi-Cal until I was 17, when California expanded the program to include children and young adults like me. I was happy about that, but I knew it would be short-lived. Health For All Kids – as the program is called – only covers young people up to age 19.

Even though I’ve been here before, not having Medi-Cal feels horrible. I’m back to worrying about getting sick or hurt.

In the days leading up to my 19th birthday, I learned I needed glasses, but that I wouldn’t receive my prescription lenses before I lost Medi-Cal coverage. My birthday came and went, and at age 19, I don’t have the glasses I need to read.

Not to mention – not being able to see a regular doctor is scary. But this is familiar territory. I was little when I came to the states and I couldn’t go to a doctor even if I was sick or hurt, let alone for a check-up to make sure I was in good health. This made it hard to enjoy life. I was always nervous about getting hurt because my family couldn’t afford to take me to the hospital or pay for medications. When I did become ill, I would rely on natural recipes I learned from my village, and just hoped they would work.

Even though I’ve been here before, not having Medi-Cal feels horrible. I’m back to worrying about getting sick or hurt and am spending my summer vacation working in the fields, so I can earn enough money to pay for prescription glasses before school starts. Maybe next summer I’ll try to earn enough money to pay for my dental work. I recently learned I have seven cavities, but I turned 19 before I was able to schedule treatment.

I don’t really understand why my health mattered a few months ago, but doesn’t today. It makes me feel like the lives of people who are allowed to have Medi-Cal and see doctors are worth more than me, like those people and their health are valued, while my health is not.

I work hard; I was one of the first in my family to graduate high school and am now enrolled in community college. I have volunteered over 200 hours as a Mixteco Indigena Community Organizing Project (MICOP) Tequio Youth Group leader, and I have led multiple advocacy campaigns in my community.

My health is an asset to my community, my family, and myself – and it should be to California as well. I want our state leaders to know that I am an asset to my community and my health is worth it. It is not right that my family and I live in constant fear for our health. My parents are farm workers. My dad limps and suffers from excruciating back pain, but he will not get treatment because he is also undocumented. This is his reality. We work so hard and give so much, for so little in return. I find myself crying at night in bed, because I don’t want my family to see my tears.

I want to help, but I feel helpless because my story is not unique. Everyday teenagers throughout the state are losing access to Medi-Cal once they turn 19 and are watching their parents perform backbreaking work, despite the pain. But I will not give up. My family brought me to Oxnard so that I can work hard, get a good education, and have a career, so that is what I’ll do.

I will purchase my glasses, go to college, and continue to advocate for the health of my community and all Californians – even though the state doesn’t always seem to advocate for me.

Ed’s Note: Itándivi Lopez resides in Oxnard, CA, with her family. She currently works in the strawberry fields in the Central Valley and will be attending community college in the fall.


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