Medi-Cal Numbers Don't Reveal Our Faces - Women's Foundation California

Leilaby Leila Pree, Coro Fellow

I recently started interning at the Women’s Foundation of California. One of my tasks is to assist with the Stand With Women (SWW) Campaign. As a result, I needed to familiarize myself with the California Budget Project and their recent report, Falling Behind: The Impact of the Great Recession and the Budget Crisis on California’s Women and Their Families.  In reading the report, I felt as if I was handed information–facts and figures of how budget cuts have disproportionately affected women and children. Yet, these facts and figures were merely numbers and words on a page, composed to form sentences that made many statements and inferences. I didn’t yet feel their significance.

On Thursday I left work early to make it to the Social Services Office of Alameda County. I had received a call that my application for Medi-Cal was going to be denied if I did not provide proof of residency and proper documentation. As a D.C. native, my father’s insurance didn’t cover me in San Francisco. My father was under the impression that Medi-Cal would be able to cover dental costs. I was desperate to fill 9 cavities. Needless to say, it was a time-sensitive issue. On my hour commute in the pouring rain, I could only fiddle my thumbs, hoping that I would make it before the office closed at five. As I walked into the building, I was overwhelmed by the smell of fresh precipitation and soiled diapers. The room had a neutral palette, like someone had decorated it with a vintage 60’s theme. There was very little color aside from the clerk’s Pepsi blue sweater. I made it with 15 minutes to spare. There was no long wait or herding of people in line, just the awkward silence that exists in a room with very few people. All I heard was the rhythmic exchange of the inhale and exhale of air between  the clerk and me.

As I handed her my application and supporting documents, she asked me if there was any reason to expedite the application process. I informed her that I had 9 cavities and she curtly responded “Medi-Cal doesn’t cover dental anymore.” In dismay I said “thank you” and collected my papers. I headed towards the door, ready to face the hour-long commute ahead of me, when a young woman began pounding at the entrance door. The security guard on duty yelled “We’re closed, ma’am!” Through the dingy glass that muffled her voice, she replied “Sir, there is still 2 minutes left, it’s not five yet!” I was just about to reach for the door when she said “Please sir, I have 4 kids and it’s only me, I need to get these papers in.” At that moment I realized my privilege standing on the other side of the glass. The door stood slightly ajar as the guard motioned me to proceed. He immediately shut it after I was clear — to prevent the woman from entering.

I called my dad to deliver the unfortunate news. He was taken back when I told him Medi-Cal cut dental as part of their coverage. Then, he proceeded to tell me that my brother was “root-canaled with Medicaid in Pennsylvania; I thought California had it all!” Even though I was not able to receive dental coverage, I knew that I had another option to receive care in my hometown; for many single mothers in California, Medi-Cal is the only option.

In retrospect, I feel as though when your personal story becomes dissociated from your name, you are reduced to an insignificant case number and that’s how you’re identified. You are reduced to a fact and/or figure. Do you consider yourself a number? I know I don’t. People identify themselves by name, by social identity, by communities.

The Falling Behind report sought to inform people of the impact of the economic downturn and how the California budget crisis affects women and their families. For me, the one thing missing were the stories of the people behind these facts and figures. This woman helped me see that Medi-Cal was a necessity, yet with recent cuts, there is a possibility that she would be without.

Working with the Women’s Foundation of California, I am in constant awe of their ability to transcend this disconnect of policy and people. They assist in bridging the gap between facts/figures and the people who they represent. I look forward to furthering my knowledge of the impact the Foundation has on women’s issues and their advocacy in the realm of policy. I invite you to also take time to learn about the people behind the facts and figures.

Click here for more information about the Coro Fellows program in Public Affairs

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