Illness doesn’t discriminate — and neither should health care

Elementary school students in a California classroom. ((Photo: Monkey Business Images)

Right now California has the opportunity to lead the nation in one of the most pressing issues of our time: immigration reform and health for all. Governor Jerry Brown recently signed a budget that will offer Medi-Cal access to all children, regardless of immigration status, sometime next year. While this is a significant investment in the future of our state, there are still more than a million Californians who will  remain excluded from life-saving health care services at the county, state, and federal level.

Life is a basic human right. In fact, it was considered an inalienable right by Thomas Jefferson. Most Americans are aware that the Founding Fathers never meant to be inclusive or to extend those rights to minority populations, but haven’t we evolved in the 200 years after the inception of the Declaration of Independence? Haven’t we amended laws and cultural norms to be more inclusive? Of course we have. Yet, millions of Californians are still denied the right to life because they’re undocumented. If illnesses do not discriminate, then neither should our health care system.

Being undocumented, I have always been reminded that life isn’t fair.

I was three when I came to the United States. I don’t remember when I realized that I was different. I had always considered myself an American. Growing up undocumented, I’ve experienced many exclusions, like not being able to obtain a driver’s license or financial aid for college. However, the worst exclusion of my life has been from health care. When I was 19, I aged out of my parents’ insurance. At 22, I was diagnosed with cancer. Of course I feared for my life, but at a time when most people discuss their treatment options with their doctor, I worried about how I would get treatment.

It occurred to me that I might have to leave the only home I’ve ever known and return to a country I don’t remember to get treated. I feared moving to a strange place away from family when I needed them most. Neither could I bear the thought of leaving my education unfinished. I have worked hard since I was 17, so that I could pay my own tuition and obtain a Political Science degree. I had and still have dreams of contributing to California by spending my life advocating for equality and improving the lives of the underrepresented. Leaving was not an option. Being undocumented, I have always been reminded that life isn’t fair, but I have never felt it more than I did then.

We are all endowed with the right to life. Or are those just hollow words?

I guess you could say I was lucky to be diagnosed with one of two cancers covered by the state’s Breast and Cervical Cancer Treatment Program (BCCTP). Unlike many other programs, BCCTP does not require legal status for eligibility. Had the diagnosis been different, I might not be here today. Sadly, my story isn’t unique. There are more than a million Californians who are locked out of health care due to legal status, and many who require life-saving medical care. They are our neighbors, co-workers, and parents of US citizens who depend on them.

I applaud our legislature and Governor Brown for agreeing on a budget that gives all children access to health care, regardless of immigration status. Many children will no longer be without basic preventative care, yet their parent’s remain uninsured and unprotected. California, as a whole, needs to invest in its residents and offer a solution to those who cannot wait any longer. We are all endowed with the right to life. Or are those just hollow words with no meaning wrapped in pretty packaging? Am I truly unworthy to live, contribute, and dream because I wasn’t born on the right side of the border?

Ed’s Note: Angela Velazquez is a Health Access Specialist for Sacramento Covered. She is also a Covered California Certified Enrollment Counselor.


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