Under the Affordable Care Act, also commonly referred to as Obamacare, Medi-Cal has expanded to insure 13.7 million people in California.
Elia Fernandez and many members of her family are among them.
On Oct. 25, Fernandez was invited to speak at Medi-Cal’s 50th anniversary celebration in San Francisco, where she shared how health insurance through Medi-Cal not only saved her life, but her daughter’s as well.
Donald Trump—who promised, among other things, to revoke Obamacare—won the United States presidency 11 days later.
Trump seems to have backed off on his promise to dismantle Obamacare, but his Nov. 29 nomination of Georgia Rep. Tom Price, a fierce Obamacare critic, for secretary of health and human services, was disheartening news to many.
“Congressman Price has proven to be far out of the mainstream of what Americans want when it comes to Medicare, the Affordable Care Act and Planned Parenthood,” said New York Senator Charles Schumer. “Thanks to those three programs, millions of American seniors, families, people with disabilities and women have access to quality, affordable health care. Nominating Congressman Price to be the H.H.S. secretary is akin to asking the fox to guard the henhouse.”
As for Fernandez—who was born and raised in the Mission and has been making and selling tamales for 27 years—she had a similar reaction to Trump’s nomination.
“I’m worried,” she said, about the prospect of losing her insurance under Medi-Cal. She is unemployed and diabetic, requiring her to inject insulin, which she says can cost up to $80 for a small bottle. “I won’t be able to afford that.”
It was 2008 when Medi-Cal first impacted Fernandez’s life, as she listened to her daughter’s constant complaints of back pain. Upon checking into a local hospital, doctors discovered that Fernandez’s daughter, who was 19 and four months pregnant, had a tumor on one of her kidneys.
A successful major surgery resulted in the removal of one of her kidneys. And eight days later Fernandez’s daughter was walking and ready to go home.
“We were happy she was going to leave the hospital after those 8 days. But she had trouble breathing at night and would cough up blood,” Fernandez said. The doctors at California Pacific Medical Center issued a “code blue” and rushed Fernandez’s daughter into another room.
“When she came out of the other room, she was connected to 14 machines, she was in a deep coma. She lasted in the coma for 11 days … while pregnant,” Fernandez said.
During those 11 days a priest visited Fernandez and her daughter, ready to deliver last rites.
“The doctors had me choosing between her and the baby,” Fernandez said. “I’ll never forget that.”
It was during that difficult time that Fernandez also discovered that her daughter’s Medi-Cal had been discontinued. Fernandez said her daughter didn’t send in the proper paperwork due to her 3-month stay in the hospital.
“She wasn’t living with me anymore. How is she gonna remember her health was first? So I had to do all of her paperwork.”
Fernandez, a member of the San Francisco Health Plan, told the insurance agency about her daughter’s situation. With help, she was able to get her daughter’s Medi-Cal reinstated and their hospital bills paid, which reached $18,000 at one point. Her daughter fully recovered and eventually gave birth to Fernandez’s granddaughter, who will turn 8 on Dec. 11.
But that wouldn’t be the last time Medi-Cal came to Fernandez’s aid.
In August of 2014, she was involved in a car accident in Vallejo as a passenger. Her injuries were severe enough that firefighters had to remove the passenger door to free her from the wreckage. She was hospitalized and bedridden for three weeks, and like her daughter years before, her Medi-Cal was cut too.
“There’s a time when you have to renew everything, and I couldn’t renew mine because I was at home, three weeks in bed,” Fernandez said. “I couldn’t move. I couldn’t do anything. And I’m the only one that does all of my stuff.”
After making calls to the San Francisco Health Plan, her coverage was reinstated, paying for her walker, physical therapy and medical bills.
She would utilize that coverage again in February of 2015, when she was hit by a car while walking on the sidewalk delivering cookies packed in tupperware. The impact launched her nine feet, and her head landed on her cookies as she crashed to the ground.
I’m still here because of those tupperwares,” she said.
Today Fernandez is an advocate for Medi-Cal and the San Francisco Health Plan, urging people to apply at the Human Services Agency of San Francisco, located on Harrison Street, between 10th and 11th streets.
“It helps people if you’re working or not working,” she said. “Some people are afraid to go out and get information, but the community needs to be more informed about these services.”
Story by: Alexis Terrazas