Mother becomes an activist for Obamacare

Daissy Forero, left, speaks at community forum about healthcare in Santa Ana, California. Photo: César Arredondo

Daissy Forero is grateful Obamacare remains the law of the land after a Republican effort to kill it in Congress failed in March. Still, the 37-year-old immigrant mother of two is not letting her guard down for the sake of her family.

Hearing reports that Republicans and President Donald Trump might try again to go after Obamacare, Forero is determined to fight back. “I thank God the Republicans’ proposal didn’t succeed but we all must remain vigilant,” she says after a meeting on health care in California’s Orange County.

The resident of the city of Garden Grove is among the thousands of people across the country who have raised their voices in town halls and other gatherings in support of Obamacare. Taking public stands on issues wasn’t really her way to try to influence policy, says the soft-spoken Colombian immigrant. But she adds the health and well-being of a daughter with cerebral palsy is at stake.

In late March Forero spoke at “Protecting Health Care Access in Orange County,” a community forum organized by the nonprofit New America Media. It was her second public event defending President Barack Obama’s signature health program. There, she shared the story of Isabella, her 11-year-old daughter who has received medical care for her condition. “A surgery performed last year has allowed my girl to better walk, without the need of a walker,” Forero said. It all has been covered by Medi-Cal, the California version of Medicare for low-income families and individuals which has been expanded under Obamacare.

Exhibit on health care in Orange County, California. Photo: César Arredondo

Does she considers herself an activist? a journalist asks the mother from the O.C. She ponders it for a short while. “I think so,” responds the woman pensively.

Now with Obamacare and Medicaid still under threat, this mom is ready to project her newfound activism farther. “There is too much at stake,” she states.

Activists at “Protecting Health Care Access in Orange County” agree.

More than 20 million people have been insured under the Affordable Care Act, the official name of Obamacare, with many low-income families in minority communities being finally able to get coverage through an expanded Medi-Cal, said Doreena Wong of the nonprofit Asian Americans Advancing Justice.

Wong pointed out that the Medi-Cal expansion has allowed the enrollment of 1.4 million Latinos, 290,000 Asians and another 290,000 African-Americans. Just in Orange County, 260,000 low-income adults benefitted from such change, she added. Putting into perspective how important Medi-Cal is in the Golden State, Wong stated that “one third of California residents has medical”–about 13.5 million people.

“Contrary to what Republicans and the President say, ACA has been a tremendous success,” she says.

California has proven to be a champion in healthcare for children, regardless of immigration status. Last year, the state allowed Medi-Cal coverage for undocumented youngsters under 19 years of age. About 187,000 enrolled in the program, with 14,000 of them in Orange County, said Mayra Alvarez of the Children’s Partnership, another not-for-profit organization.

However, fear and misinformation could be preventing many immigrants from accessing health care they qualify for such as Medi-Cal. News and rumors about immigration raids and deportations have many on edge and may be keep them away from medical facilities.

Panelist Jenny Rejske says she understands people’s apprehension. “The actions by Trump have demonized immigrants,” says the health policy analyst of the National Immigration Law Center. Trump launched his presidential campaign with a diatribe against Mexican immigrants and wants to build a southern border wall.

Nonetheless, Rejske also has some advice for immigrants. “They should feel comfortable to use health services after enrolling (in Medi-Cal),” she said. According to Rejske, “state and federal laws protect (clients’) information under Medi-Cal.” In other words, personal data cannot be shared with other government agencies, including U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, I.C.E. When it comes to health care programs, she emphasised: “If eligible, apply for it and use it.”

Furthermore, Rejske stated that immigration agents have been instructed to avoid entering places of worship, schools and healthcare facilities, in accordance to a ICE memo issued in 2011 and that seems to still be in effect. But she also recommends that immigrants know their rights in case they are approached by law enforcement and immigration agents anywhere.

One place immigrants should not fear in O.C. is their local community health center. “We do not ask people for their (immigration) status,” said Isabel Becerra of the Coalition of Orange County Community Health Centers. The group has 26 members operating more than 65 facilities in the region.

The distress caused by Trump’s immigration policies and discourse in some communities is prompting the O.C. coalition to consider adopting new roles and measures. Becerra said she would like to partner up with other organization to explore offering on-site advice on immigration issues, such as how to establish legal guardianship of minors whose undocumented parents fear getting deported. “We are a trusted source and location for our patients,” she said.

A participant speaks at “Protecting Health Care Access in Orange County.” Photo: César Arredondo

A repeal for Obamacare or drastic changes in Medicaid could have catastrophic impact on health care services and facilities, warned other panelists at “Protecting Health Care Access in Orange County.”

“If the ACA is repealed, we’ll be forced to reduce our services,” said Daniela Ojeda of AltaMed, a health care provider with 43 sites in Los Angeles and Orange counties. The closure of health centers is also a possibility, she added.

The demise of Obamacare would also be devastating to the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community, according to Dannie Cecena of the LGBT Center of Orange County. He said that LGBT youth need access to medical care as they face family rejection, bullying in school, homelessness, violence, high rates of depression and suicide, and other issues. Currently, an LGBT person with Medi-Cal can see any doctor in O.C. that accepts the programs.

Moreover, Obamacare also allows for health data collection that is critical for the LGBT community to ensure access and quality of health services, added Laura Kanter, also with LGBT Center of O.C.

Mayra Alvarez of The Children’s Partnership. Photo: César Arredondo

With so much to lose, defenders of the Affordable Care Act and Medicaid/Medi-Cal in O.C. remain steadfast in their effort to save and preserve them.

Republicans and Trump have failed in getting rid of the so A.C.A., but they continue negotiations among themselves to fulfill their years-old pledge to kill President Obama’s most important health policy–and may the the one of his biggest legacies. They are also considering undermining it in other ways.

”Congress is trying to gut the entire Medicare program as we know it,” warns Alvarez, the representative of the Children’s Partnership. She called the recent failure of the Republican healthcare proposal in Washington, DC a “definite victory” but also qualified it as a “small victory.” She warned the fight isn’t over.

That is something understood by Daissy Forero, the O.C. mother of the young girl with cerebral palsy. She realizes more tough battles ahead to ensure healthcare for millions of Americans under Obamacare and Medicaid. “I hope I can touch the hearts and minds of more people and not allow that our politicians make decisions without thinking about the consequences,” she says. “I’ll keep on fighting so that this blessing of health care is not taken away from those who need it the most.”



Author: Cesar Arredondo

Journalist with more than 20 years of experience working for English- and Spanish-language and bilingual news outlets. Winner of three Best of the West Journalism Awards and a recognition from the National Association of Hispanic Publications.

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