I am a 17-year-old undocumented young adult and I believe that access to affordable health care services should not depend on luck. I am lucky because as of recently, undocumented people under the age of 19 are now eligible for full scope Medi-Cal. This means that, for the first time in our lives, my brother and I have access to health care — something most people probably take for granted.
This may not seem like a big deal to many but to my family, it means the world. Our inability to simply see a doctor has impacted us in very negative ways. Since arriving from Lima, Peru 13 years ago, my family did their best to avoid being detected by immigration authorities and being recorded in databases. We bounced from clinic to clinic, only received care when it was absolutely necessary and never established a primary doctor.
Because I did not have access to health care growing up, I’ve always had to endure health issues that were otherwise treatable or preventable, such as suffering from cavities because I couldn’t go to the dentist. I even missed out on opportunities at my school because I lacked basic health care. I vividly remember the sadness I felt the day I was held back from running for my high school’s cross-country team because I was unable to get the required physical checkup to compete.
There were even times when I clearly needed emergency medical care yet avoided it out of fear. Like the time when I was 15 and the victim of an attempted robbery. I suffered multiple injuries from the altercation, including what felt like a broken nose and a head injury. I should have gone to the emergency room, but because of the fears associated with my status and the fear of being a financial burden to my family, I chose not to. Instead I mended myself the best I could and persevered.
When I receive my Medi-Cal acceptance notice, I will rejoice and breathe a sigh of relief. I plan to immediately schedule a comprehensive checkup and take advantage of this opportunity while I have it. The Medi-Cal expansion is a wonderful and needed benefit, but I must also share that I am somewhat remorseful. My access to this level of health care will be short-lived. When I turn 19, my luck will run out. I will be kicked out of Medi-Cal and go back to not having the ability to see a doctor.
Unfortunately, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) is not an option for me as means to access health care. I officially became undocumented after 2012 and am not eligible for DACA. Because of this, I remain undocumented and in less than two years, I will return to bouncing from clinic to clinic.
California provides many opportunities for immigrants to obtain services not available in other states. I am very appreciative of these opportunities and I thank those who have worked hard to make them a reality for my family and me. Even so, the question remains: At what point do we stop valuing the lives of others? Are my health, my life and the contributions I make worth any less to our state once I turn 19? Is my health, at the age of 17, worth more than my mother’s, who continues to be without health care coverage despite her growing health concerns, as she gets older?
California must make health care available and accessible to everyone. A statewide health care solution would not only keep preventable health issues out of emergency rooms, but it is also the humane and right thing to do. Expanding services to all Californians would make a statement to the rest of our country that our state recognizes the value and worth of every human life.