Obamacare and my mom: Why California must get it right

Health care reform is already helping real people struggling to obtain health insurance. I know, because my mother is one of them. But California faces crucial decisions this year, particularly regarding the expansion of Medi-Cal, and for the sake of people like my mom, it’s crucial that we get them right.


I was ten years old when mom was diagnosed with chronic lupus, a disease in which the immune system goes haywire and attacks healthy tissues – entering the world of “pre-existing conditions” that made it difficult for our family to afford health insurance. The Affordable Care Act, which marked its third anniversary March 23, is about to make her life much easier.


Mom emigrated from Mexico to the United States at 17, settling in Watsonville. Being undocumented and not knowing the language, she had limited opportunities for employment and ended up working in the agricultural fields and produce packing industries of the Salinas Valley for the next thirty years of her life.


Fortunately, my mom acquired legal residency in her early thirties, which allowed her to afford health coverage through her employer. Then, at 40, she was diagnosed with chronic lupus. There were mornings when she would wake up nearly paralyzed —not feeling her left arm and  barely able to get out of bed.


I have extensive memories of visiting my mother in the hospital, driving her to expensive treatments forty miles away and acting as translator between mom and the healthcare

professionals. At age 16, I started working to help support my family because our insurance did not cover the majority of mom’s hospital expenses.  Mom tried enrolling in various health insurance plans that could better address her needs, but was denied coverage because of her pre-existing condition.


That’s about to end. Starting in January 2014, people like my mom will be able to purchase insurance and not have to worry about being denied coverage because of a pre-existing condition.


My mom’s illness got worse in 2007, when my father was hospitalized due to a brain aneurism. She was hospitalized due to excessive stress complicated by a lupus flareup, and I was simultaneously visiting both of my parents at the hospital.


My father eventually passed away during brain surgery, which put our family in serious financial need. Living without health insurance at the time, we had to raise money and apply to the hospital’s community benefit program to pay for both my parents’ medical expenses. Mom took a leave of absence from her job to cope with her disease and the emotional and mental stress. With very limited income and heavy medical expenses, we lost our home. My mom, sisters and I moved into my aunt’s home until my sisters and I left for college.


Employed part-time and still without health insurance, my mother sees the Affordable Care Act as a beacon of hope. The changes in Medi-Cal eligibility requirements due to health care reform mean my mom will be eligible to enroll.


The expansion of Medi-Cal can help millions. But how we implement it is still up for debate. We need Gov. Brown to do what is equitable for all Californians by having the state continue to oversee Medi-Cal and continuing to allocate resources for our counties to ensure a robust safety net for those not covered, including the undocumented. If the future of Medi-Cal and of safety net programs for those still not eligible is dumped on cash-strapped counties, it will be people like my mom who suffer.


We are now in the process of signing up my mom for our county’s Low Income Health Program, which is acting as the bridge into Medi-Cal services for people like her who will be eligible for Medi-Cal in January.  Soon, my mom will have the security of having health coverage and knowing that her illness won’t ruin her financially. Millions of other Californians will soon have the same peace of mind, and we need to do right by them.

Ed’s Note: Adrian Sanchez is Health Fellow at The Greenlining Institute, www.greenlining.org.


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