Dear President Obama,
I volunteer as a clinical professor at the UCLA Department of Family Medicine and, in 2008, began a monthly community health clinic at the Korean Resource Center (KRC) with a group of Korean American med students. At the clinic, we treat low-income uninsured Korean Americans.
Korean Americans disproportionately lack health coverage and use fewer services than they need. My heart especially goes out to uninsured people that came to this country to live a better life. Although they pay no less taxes than others, no matter how dire their financial situation, they do not qualify for public programs that citizens qualify for. Many community leaders try to alleviate this situation by setting up free clinics and sponsoring and volunteering at health fairs. However, the problem cannot be solved by free clinics and health fairs alone.
Every day I meet Korean Americans who go from health fair to health fair, unaware of the in-depth care they need. I have also met many who have been lost in the sea of frustration and disappointment trying to access that care. Some have wept uncontrollably in front of me, recounting how they have exhausted all possibilities, stood in line, and waited for hours on end only to have doors shut in their faces. People I have met at community clinics include:
• an elderly gentlemen diagnosed with diabetes more than 20 years ago but had never gone to a physician because he was uninsured;
• a woman with cancer who had never received treatment;
• community members with high cholesterol and blood pressure who cannot afford medicine;
• a financially and emotionally desolate woman with whom the medical students and I talked to for over an hour. If we had not been there that day, it is plausible that she may have taken her own life. Affordable and culturally and linguistically appropriate psychiatric services are lacking in the Korean American community.
Rather than trying to patch up the tattered cloth of the U.S. health care system, we need to contribute to the making of the new garb, starting from the fundamental weaving of the fabric. The U.S. is our home, and we Korean Americans and immigrants see the need to make this country livable for us and those who come after us. We all – churches, clinics, businesses, community organizations, schools, adults, children, old and young – need to come together to mount an effective movement toward reform.
Dr. Angela Jo
The Choice Before Us: Letters to President Obama is also available in PDF format. Edited and compiled by the Center for Community Change, Northwest Federation of Community
Organizations and National Korean American Service & Education Consortium.