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Immigrants face a life-or-debt health care choice

Growing up undocumented, I understood what it meant to become ill and do everything possible to not end up at the hospital.

The reason was simple.

My family could not afford more debt and did not want to risk exposing the fact we were undocumented and uninsured. This led me to follow a path of learning and seeking skills and tools that would keep my community healthy and away from debt. Without access to health insurance this was very challenging.

Through this path, I ended up working at a local health clinic known for serving undocumented families. The health clinic provided affordable health care for undocumented and low-income communities.

Working there for three years only opened my eyes more to the daily fears, diseases and stress families like my own experience in New Mexico.

I’ll never forget the afternoon that a patient arrived at the clinic after leaving work and told me he was not feeling well. He was hoping the doctor could check him and told me he felt pressure on his chest and felt his left arm was asleep. He went on to say he had been feeling like that the whole day, even at work.

Without thinking twice, I took him to the back and checked his vitals. While I was checking his blood pressure, I couldn’t help but notice him closing his eyes and praying to God that everything was fine. His blood pressure was approximately 190/110 and his oxygen saturation percentage was below 84 percent.

I knew at that moment that he was in serious danger.

I told the doctor we had an emergency, and he checked him right away, immediately determining that without doubt the man was having a heart attack. I had to tell him in Spanish what was happening and that we were calling an ambulance to take him to the ER as soon as possible.

With fear and tears in his eyes he looked at me and told me, “No mijo, no me mandes al hospital porque no tengo papeles y no tengo aseguranza y ya tengo mucha deuda en mi vida.”

He told me not to send him to the ER because he had no papers, no health insurance and couldn’t afford any more debt in his life.

There was no other choice. I called the ambulance, and as a result, he is alive today. I couldn’t help but think how this man’s story was common in my community.

The man making the choice to go to work first and risk dying rather going straight to the clinic in the morning and perhaps increasing the debt of his family is a story echoed throughout our undocumented communities.

We have been displaced from the health care system even after all the economic contribution to our state and country our undocumented communities make. Health care should not be about profit, nor should our families refrain from going to a hospital because of the fear they will have no money to pay for it.

HB 416, the Medicaid Buy-In Act, would allow many families who are undocumented to not worry about the debt or their lack of health insurance, but instead think about their health and safety. Medicaid buy-in would allow families to buy into the Medicaid system and give them the opportunity to access health care in order to prevent illness and thrive.

Health care is an inalienable right, and our state legislators must ensure ALL New Mexicans have access to affordable medical care.

Josue De Luna Navarro is a DACA recipient.

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