Our Voices, Our Health
Part 1: Undocumented and Uninsured
Catherine Choi and her family had two choices when it came to their health: endure the pain or pay hundreds of dollars for one doctor’s visit. For five years, Catherine and her family were uninsured due to their undocumented status. The mother of two could barely afford to see a doctor, even when she suffered from chronically low blood levels and fainting spells. Today, Catherine and her friend, Judy Choi, talk about her experiences navigating the healthcare system and the urgent need for more accessible insurance programs for individuals like herself and her family.
Read the entire transcript in Korean.
▼ English Transcript (click to expand)
Speaker Initials: Catherine Choi - CC, Judy Choi - JC
*This is not a direct translation. This story has been summarized in English for those who do not understand or read Korean
CC I came to the U.S. in 2005. When we immigrated, we applied for the E2 visa but we weren’t able to obtain it. So for 5 years, my family, including my children, and my mother, lived without any health insurance. Every time we were sick, we either paid cash to be seen, or we just endured the pain and did not get any care. My mother first learned about Queen’s Care in 2007 and she has been receiving the treatment from that community clinic since then. So she has been receiving diabetes medication, but for the rest of us we couldn’t get any formal healthcare.
JC So what did you do when you got ill? I remember you did get ill before.
CC I paid cash every time I went to the hospital. Luckily, my kids did not get sick often so they did not have to go the hospital much. However, they were never able to receive any annual check-up’s. For me, I was quite sick at times from menstruation. I had excess menses every cycle so I got really sick from it often. For about five years, when I got really sick from menstruation, I would go get seen at ob/gyn, and I had to spend a lot of money for a various tests like ultrasound.
JC How about nowadays? Are those illnesses taken care of? Do you still pay cash to be seen?
CC For about five years, because of excess menses, I started to be short on iron in my body. So I lacked too much anemia, and that caused me to suffer from an anemia. The normal anemia level is 12 but I always had either 7 or 5. I often couldn’t function day-to-day due to this condition.
JC You couldn’t function normally everyday.
CC Yes. One time…
JC Yeah, your face tone was not very lively.
CC Yes. One time, I passed out and I had to be taken to the ER. At the ER, they checked my anemia level and it was extremely low. Both my hemoglobin level and iron level were low, so I stayed in the hospital for a day and got a blood transfusion. The USC hospital initially paid for my care. While I was at the hospital, I asked if there is a medical insurance program I could apply. From someone’s help, I was introduced to a U.S. university non-profit organization that taught me how to enroll in an emergency medical insurance program.
JC That’s great.
CC So I paid the hospital care from that day with that insurance program. After two years, it happened again..
JC That happened again?
CC For two years, I continued following the doctor’s order from the USC hospital. They prescribed me a birth control medication that helps to control menses. I got some side effects from that medication about 10 months later. It made me start to have even more menses than before I began taking the medication. So I stopped taking medication and I didn’t get any treatment from the local hospitals because it would cost me about $2,000 per treatment.
JC That much for a single visit?
CC It would cost me about $500 per visit. So I just endured the pain and lived another two years. After two years, my hemoglobin level went down again. I collapsed at a shopping mall and someone called 911 for me. I went to the ER and received a blood transfusion again.
JC You suffered so much.
CC After the blood transfusion, they asked me to decide if I want to undergo a surgery or take birth control medications. After about a year of contemplation, I agreed to undergo a surgery.
The Korean Resource Center (KRC) was founded in 1983 to empower low-income, immigrant, Asian American and Pacific Islander, and people of color communities in Southern California. Using a holistic approach, KRC strives to empower our community by integrating services, education, culture, organizing, and coalition building.
For more information, please contact KRC:
Address: 900 Crenshaw Blvd
Los Angeles CA 90019
Phone: (323) 937-3718
Our Voices, Our Health is a series by Asian Americans Advancing Justice - Los Angeles (Advancing Justice-LA) in collaboration with StoryCorps and multiple Health Justice Network partners. Beginning November 2017, we are be sharing compelling stories to highlight the diversity of health care challenges and experiences within California’s Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander communities.
November 1, 2017 to January 30, 2018 is the open enrollment period for Covered California, California’s health exchange marketplace. If you need assistance to enroll, renew, or use your health coverage, click here to find a Certified Enrollment Counselor near you or contact (213) 241-0262 or [email protected]!
This series was produced by Advancing Justice-LA, with interviews recorded by StoryCorps, a national nonprofit whose mission is to preserve and share humanity’s stories in order to build connections between people and create a more just and compassionate word. www.storycorps.org.
Advancing Justice-LA would like to thank the following Funders for their generous support of this project: The California Wellness Foundation, The California Endowment, Covered California, DentaQuest Foundation, and Walter and Shirley Wang.