NAKASEC in the News: “Must work together to find solutions to health care issues” (Oakland Tribune, 10/31/2009)

My Word: Must work together to find solutions to health care issues
By Catherine Pyun
Posted: 10/31/2009 12:01:00 AM PDT
http://www.insidebayarea.com/trivalleyherald/opinion/ci_13678032

WHAT DOES citizenship mean to you? To me, citizenship is more than a piece of paper. Citizenship means giving back to our communities. It means that when systems and policies are harmful to people in our communities, we voice what is wrong. It means working together to find solutions that work for all us.

This year I celebrated Citizenship Day, Sept. 17, by traveling to Washington D.C.
I met Diane from Washington whose daughter died from hypertension-related issues because she couldn’t afford health care to see a doctor for routine visits that would have saved her life.

I met a young college student who has “aged off” of his parent’s health insurance plan and worries daily about becoming injured or sick while juggling work and school.

In all, there were 300 of us from 26 states. We shared stories of how the current health care and immigration systems have failed our families and our communities. I shared my own.

I almost lost my mother when she was being treated for her aggressive liver disease. As a Korean immigrant who struggles with speaking English, she was unable to communicate with the doctors and nurses. She did not understand the diagnosis. She did not understand her options for care. In the end, she was forced to have a liver transplant that could have been prevented had she fully understood her condition.

My mother was one of the lucky ones. Her transplant was successful.

But she is not the only one now trying to rebuild her life post-illness.

When my mother became sick, my sister went on leave from work to be my mother’s caretaker. She eventually lost her job and cannot find another one that provides health benefits. She cannot afford health insurance on her own, remains uninsured, and runs the risk of becoming seriously ill herself.
Illnesses have widespread impact. Families, support networks, and communities all carry the burden of one person’s illness. I have learned that when the system fails one of us, it fails all of us.

Currently, legal immigrants have a five-year waiting period before being able to access health care that they actually support by paying taxes. I shudder to think if my mother became ill during the first five years of coming to this country. I am an American citizen and would have lost my mother, the one who raised me to become a contributing member to this country.

The Senate Finance Committee bill bars undocumented immigrants from buying insurance even if they have the ability to pay for it themselves. If someone is able to pay for health care, why would we keep them from accessing life saving treatment?

This is especially problematic for the Korean American community, which has the ignoble distinction of having the highest rates of uninsured among any racial or ethnic group.

We must make sure families do not fall apart because of harmful health care policies. We all know of someone who has suffered from this broken system. We eventually will know of someone who may die because it. We need health care reform that leaves everybody in and nobody out. We owe it to our communities. We owe it to our families. We owe it to ourselves.

Unity In Movement was a national mobilization held Sept. 16-18 and organized by the National Korean American Service and Education Consortium and its affiliates in the spirit of citizenship on Citizenship Day. Catherine Pyun is associate director of the Oakland-based Korean Community Center of the East Bay.