FRESNO– After weeks of complaining about a toothache, Jesse Lopez* was forced to seek medical attention at Selma Hospital last week. “They gave me a prescription for pain medication and asked how I would be paying,” said Lopez, “I said cash.”
Jesse Lopez doesn’t have health insurance. Lopez, who works at a recycling center in Central Fresno, cannot afford private health insurance without assistance, and because he is undocumented, he is ineligible for the federally-funded health insurance assistance program, Medi-Cal.
“My wife usually takes care of me at home if I have a fever,” said Lopez. “When I’m sick I’d rather do home remedies since doctor visits for me are so expensive.”
Lopezis just one of the 1.6 million undocumented residents in California struggling to find the means to pay for medical treatment when illness and injury unexpectedly strike.
In Fresno County, the need for coverage is even greater; immigrant residents make up over 20 percent of the population, according to a study by The Center for the Study of Immigration Integration at the University of Southern California.
Despite this, Fresno County is poised to deplete the funds for the Medically Indigent Services Program (MISP), narrowing the coverage options for undocumented Fresnans even further.
Advocates like Betzabel Estudillo of the California Immigrant Policy Center’s Health Policy Coordinator are shifting their efforts to change at the state level, where lawmakers are currently debating the fate of a state bill, Senate Bill 1005 (Lara), which would expand federally-funded Medi-Cal to undocumented immigrants in California.
Estudillo said at a forum on the bill that documented and undocumented people interact in the same spaces, and that as such, basic medical services for the undocumented, like immunizations and checkups, are beneficial to everyone. Treating them could alleviate health care costs and prevent illness and deaths within the larger Fresno population, said Estudillo.
Estudillo demanded that lawmakers not, “exclude a community just because you were born somewhere else, or just because you don’t have that nine digit number.”
“If I get sick or need help, I should get it like everyone else,” said Lopez, who added that he doesn’t understand how he can work full time, pay taxes, but yet still not qualify for MediCal.
Lopez, born in Acapulco, Mexico, has been living in the central valley since he secretly boarded a flight to the U.S. when he was two years old in what his mother described as a “little box.” He said he feels more attached to the community that he has here in the U.S., than to his community in Acapulco.
“I am just like you, this is my home,” Lopez said.
His son, who was born in California, is currently covered through the CalViva program, but Lopez says after he had to pull out the thick wad of cash for his toothache medication at Selma Hospital last week, he needs to find his own health coverage, for the future.
“It’s important ’cause at my work anything could happen,” said Lopez. “You can’t expect everything, and not having health insurance is no good at all.”
*Name has been changed