For two years, Cristina Marquez, 43, an immigrant from Mexico living in the Mission District, made numerous visits to San Francisco General Hospital, but never managed to see a doctor. “I suffered too much,” she said of those years of inexplicable nosebleeds.
A lack of insurance meant she could not see a doctor, she said. Instead, nurses gave her cotton-gauzes and at best clamps to stop the bleeding. Then, one day a doctor solved her problem in five minutes. “Finally a doctor had enough compassion for me and cauterized the vein,” Marquez said.
The mother of four told her story about life as an undocumented resident without insurance at a forum meant to underscore the importance of a bill introduced by Senator Ricardo Lara (D) called “Health4All” (SB4).
The legislation, which passed the Senate and is now before an Assembly committee, seeks to provide healthcare – regardless of immigration status – to the nearly 2.6 million uninsured Californians. Illness does not discriminate and neither should California, said Senator Lara, during a briefing for the ethnic media that New America Media hosted earlier this month.
Lara, whose parents immigrated from Mexico, introduced the bill in December, 2014. He called Governor Jerry Brown’s recent decision to allocate $40 million to provide Medi-Cal for the the state’s 170,000 undocumented children a victory. The program will be launched in April 2016.
Although Brown’s budget will provide health coverage for children, nearly 1.5 million undocumented adults in California remained uninsured.
“We need to be sure that the Health for All Kids Budget signed by the governor remains a top priority, and also help the children to do a quick transition from the emergency Medi-Cal to a comprehensive coverage,” he said. Medi-Cal covers low-income residents.
Lara’s bill includes a request for a federal waiver to allow undocumented citizens to buy health insurance through Covered California. At present, President Obama’s Affordable Care Act prevents undocumented residents from any federally-funded insurance.
“We get our foot in the door, but we haven’t reach the finish line which is the coverage for all,”said Assembly member Rob Bonta (D), a co sponsor of the bill. “Some Republicans have argued fiscal reasons for not supporting the law but we need to understand that it is costing $1.7 billion annually to our state budget, to care for undocumented immigrants in our emergency rooms,” said Bonta, whose parents immigrated from the Philippines.
“The right to be sick”
Marquez said her immigration status makes it impossible or too expensive to get care.
“Every time one gets injured, it is impossible to pay costly doctors appointments,” she said “There is not enough money for rent, food and also, all my kids are in college,” she said. “My other son developed kind of a tumor in his feet and just for a room in the hospital, they charged us $1500.”
Indeed, just one of her four children, who is 16, would be covered under Brown’s budgetary allocation. To qualify she will need to prove that the family’s annual income falls below $18,000 a year.
“I recently started to work in the City and I am glad that I will have health insurance after 14 years of living in this country,” said Jesus Castro, 20, one of Marquez’s children. His income, however, makes it difficult for the family to qualify for insurance for his younger brother.
Castro knows the pain of living without insurance. At 10 years of age, he dislocated an elbow while playing baseball and his parents couldn’t afford to buy a cast for his arm. He received a brace in the emergency room but that was all. “At the end, my parents took me to a bone healer, a “curandero,” who twisted my elbow while telling me a tale to keep me distracted,” he recalled. “That was very smart, and I thank him for that.”
Nowadays he takes care of his mother whose vision is getting worse. He bought her a pair of glasses as a birthday present. “She likes to read a lot and I was having a hard time watching her read with some glasses that she found in a cabin,” he said. “I said: that is enough, I’m going to get you some glasses, no matter if they are expensive.”