California Can Become a National Leader, or Risk the Health of Undocumented Families Like Mine

07/06/2015 03:13 pm ET Updated Jul 06, 2016

By Irving Pineda
Irving was born in Zihuatanejo, Mexico and came to California when he was six years old. He is now the California Outreach Coordinator for Young Invincibles where he drives grassroots efforts to expand economic opportunity for young Californians.

Just a few weeks ago, my mom entered a crowded emergency room to seek help for a painful stomach condition that's been making her sick for months on end. After several hours of waiting, she received medical attention and a bill for thousands of dollars in lab results and X-rays.

It's hard to see her suffering and in pain, and it's especially hard to know that the main reason she can't access the routine care she needs is because of her immigration status.

Fortunately, the California Assembly and Governor Jerry Brown have an opportunity to right this wrong. The state Senate has already voted in support of making sure undocumented individuals like my mother don't risk their health any longer.

My mother has Type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, and lacks insurance. She constantly struggles to get the medication she needs to survive.

My family came to the United States from Zihuatanejo, Mexico when I was six years old. I'm a deferred action beneficiary and the proud son of my undocumented parents, but I'm deeply concerned about what we -- and so many other families in California -- face.

To this day, my mother's 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 healthcare is a basic human right. Yet millions of people like my parents were left behind, and still are today.

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. On top of providing me with a Social Security number, a driver's license and a defense against deportation, being classified as "DACAmented' gives me access to health care in California​.

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 I could not have previously afforded or accessed​ without insurance​.

Senator Ricardo Lara introduced a bill, initially nicknamed Health for All (SB4) that could finally pave the way for all Californians to have access to health care, regardless of their immigration status -- and it's up to the Governor and Assembly now to act.

Just this month, the California Senate passed Health for All in a historic bipartisan vote. The Senate passage of Health for All is a crucial step toward ensuring that as many Californians as possible have access to health coverage, regardless of their immigration status.

This is monumental, but the Senate also made amendments that limit the scope of Health for All to cut costs. The original version of Health for All would have made all Californians, regardless of age or immigration status, eligible for full-scope Medi-Cal benefits if they meet other eligibility requirements.

However, two weeks ago the Senate decided to only guarantee full Medi-Cal coverage to individuals under 19 years of age; individuals 19 and over would only have the opportunity to get Medi-Cal if there is enough funding.

With these amendments we can't truly guarantee health for all, but this is still an important first step. I hope that the Assembly and the Governor follow the Senate's lead and move swiftly on signing Health for All into law.

And when Health for All becomes law (I am assuming it will because it should!), it is crucial that state lawmakers continue to work towards expanding and financing coverage for all undocumented and uninsured Californians in the future.

While Governor Brown and legislators debate the budgetary cost of Health for All, my community confronts a far scarier price -- measured 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.

Irving Pineda can be reached at Irving.Pineda@younginvincibles.org or by phone at our LA office: (213) 221-7326.