Posted: Thursday, June 1, 2017 – 6:30 PM
Most 17-year-olds are not Cristian Mendoza. What weighs most heavily on his mind is not studying, college applications, relationships or other rites of adolescent self-expression.
What keeps him up at night, he said, is health care reform.
“I have been cancer free for three years,” said Cristian, a leukemia survivor from Sylmar. “I always thought I can be taken care of, I have Medi-Cal, everything’s going to be all right. But I’m here today because the new health care bill proposed recently really threatens a lot of people, not just myself.”
Cristian’s family was one of several Children’s Hospital Los Angeles (CHLA) patient families that joined CHLA President/CEO Paul S. Viviano and Rep. Tony Cárdenas (D-Calif.) at the hospital on May 31.
Safeguarding the health of American children
Each voiced concerns over the American Health Care Act (AHCA) and the proposed federal budget, which would slash Medicaid by $800 billion over the next decade and could cause thousands of individuals to lose health coverage while increasing costs for millions more. In addition, the budget calls for cutting the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) by at least 20 percent over the next two fiscal years, jeopardizing children reliant on federal and state assistance to cover medical care, including many CHLA patients.
“At Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, our goal is to treat everyone regardless of personal circumstance,” Viviano said. “Our message is clear: The health and wellbeing of children throughout California and the nation is our highest priority and should be the highest priority of our nation. Access to health care coverage for children needs to be sustained.”
Medicaid and CHIP are a critical lifeline for more than 36 million American children. In California, that includes 6.8 million covered by Medi-Cal (California’s name for Medicaid) and 2 million who access care through CHIP.
“Forty-plus percent of the human beings in the United States of America that are doing well are doing well because of Medicaid,” said Cárdenas. “Those are your tax dollars, ladies and gentlemen, put to good use saving lives, providing doctors the opportunities to create miracles.”
“We are the faces of what this threatens.”
Jennifer Page, whose 12-year-old son Max has a congenital heart defect, experienced those opportunities firsthand this year.
I’ll be honest, we’re an upper middle-class family, we have never qualified for Medicaid (though( we have always fought on behalf of it,” said Page, who has private insurance. “Until this year. Until Jan. 6, when my son was airlifted from Orange County unexpectedly to L.A. so he could get here for an unexpected, aggressive treatment.”
Jennifer said the family had to move near the hospital while Max was admitted for 32 days. Though long-time advocates for children’s health issues both in California and on Capitol Hill, the Pages found themselves in a situation “that would decimate any family,” she said.
“Your rainy day fund is depleted. And for the first time ever, our medical expenses exceeded 20 percent of our income and so we qualified for a supplemental insurance,” said Jennifer. Max qualified for public assistance through California Children’s Services, a largely Medi-Cal funded program for families with children with severe chronic illnesses, such as cystic fibrosis, cancer and heart disease. “I never thought in a million years we’d need it, but that’s how expensive this kind of elite care is. Max needed to be inpatient, with IV and antibiotics around the clock, and you don’t plan for that.”
Connie Morales, 20, was born with a pre-existing condition called mitochondrial myopathy, a muscle disorder that has frozen her body, impaired her speech and compromised her ability to breathe on her own. Today, Connie is on the dean’s list at Whittier College, a remarkable feat made possible through the care she has received under Medi-Cal – care that she will need for the rest of her life, but care that may be prohibitively expensive under the AHCA.
Added Cristian Mendoza: “This is something that’s very real. We are the faces. Max, Connie, we are the faces of what this threatens. We’re real people and we’re not numbers.”
“Not only does it affect my health, but it also affects my education,” Cristian said. “I want to become a pediatric oncologist and that’s something that’s very expensive to do. And if this health care bill is passed… with the little money that my mom gives me and my dad (gives me) to pay for college – I’m going to have to take all that money to pay for the new health care. And what’s left for college?”