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Who Needs Access to Health Care? Sacramento Needs to Make the Right Choice, and Fast

By Irving Pineda

I came to the United States with my mother, father, and younger brother when I was six years old. I’m a deferred action beneficiary and the proud son of undocumented parents but I’m deeply concerned about what we, and so many other families in California, face.

In Zihuatanejo, Mexico where I was born, my parents worked as teachers. My mom also owned a clothing store but one day she was swindled out of ownership and in what we suspect was a criminal act, our house burned down. We moved to East Palo Alto, California in search of a better life.

My mother babysat and sold pots and pans while my father stood outside of a Home Depot, hoping to get selected for manual labor. Our visas expired but we stayed, determined to make it in the economy. But while California’s economic climate reeled us in, our health system spit us out.

This month, our state legislature has a major opportunity to grant families like mine perhaps the greatest human right of all — access to health care — and I urge lawmakers to act, and to move swiftly.

Senator Ricardo Lara (D-Bell Gardens) calls for expanding health coverage to undocumented Californians at a recent rally in Sacramento.
Senator Ricardo Lara (D-Bell Gardens) calls for expanding health coverage to undocumented Californians at a recent rally in Sacramento.

My parents represent two of the 1.4 million people who cannot get access to health care because of their immigration status, although they have worked here for decades.

My mother has Type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure, and struggles to get medication. She has suffered for several months from a painful stomach condition that makes her sick for months on end.

A few weeks ago, she entered a crowded emergency room to seek help. After several hours of waiting, she received medical attention and a bill for thousands of dollars in lab results and X-rays. Her health condition hasn’t changed and my father’s situation is also very tough.He works in construction and has suffered two falls and major physical injuries, many of which were not treated in a hospital.

With the passage of the Affordable Care Act, we determined as a nation that health care is a basic human right. Yet millions of people statewide like my parents were left behind — and still are. Inexplicably, Governor Jerry Brown refused to allocate funding to cover undocumented and uninsured Californians from his most recent budget proposal.

Fortunately, Senator Ricardo Lara has introduced a bill called Health for All (SB4) in the legislature that could finally give all Californians access to health care, regardless of immigration status. Yet Health for All is suspended in the Senate Appropriations Committee, and only has until the end of the month to be pushed to the Senate Floor.

I know the importance of health care as a human right first hand — not just because of my parents’ situation, but because of my own. President Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) saved my life.

On top of providing me a social security number, a driver’s license and a defense against deportation, being classified as “DACAmented’ gives me access to health care. A few months into my first job as a DACA recipient, I had a cancer scare that sent me through the daunting process of invasive testing and diagnosis. Ultimately, my doctor declared me healthy but still suggested preventive surgery that would have been previously unaffordable.

While politicians debate the budgetary cost of SB4, my community confronts a far scarier price which we measure in human lives and broken families. Our families, friends, and neighbors are suffering from treatable conditions, and our economy’s feeling the pain.

California’s uninsured population costs our economy between $18.3 and $36.7 billion, annually, according to the Center for American Progress.

It is time for Governor Brown and California legislators to invest in health for all, invest in hardworking communities, and invest in lives. If we can do that, our economy will also be healthier for all.