Last Friday, Gov. Gavin Newsom submitted a $222.2 billion proposal for California’s next budget. Newsom wants to extend Medi-Cal benefits to illegal immigrants 65 and older. This comes one year after California became the first state to offer taxpayer-funded health benefits to low-income adults 25 and younger living in the United States illegally.
This angered me, not because I have anything against immigrants, but because I’m a native Californian and my state has never helped me with medical care.
My parents were immigrants who came to this country in 1955 and became naturalized citizens five years later. They were typical immigrants, working long, hard hours, sometimes seven days per week, to create a good life for their family and themselves. I have never known of foreigners who came to this country just to cash in on benefits. I firmly believe immigrants are the backbone of America.
But why should illegal immigrants get better benefits than tax-paying citizens?
When I was 17, I enlisted in the U.S. Coast Guard and served nine years active duty, earning an E-6 rank. I left active duty to put myself through college, though I remained in the USCG Reserve for three years. I worked full time while also attending university full time but didn’t have enough money to pay for health insurance. A few months before graduation, I got a severe lung infection and had to be taken by ambulance to a hospital emergency room. The total cost was so steep that I spent the next three years paying it off and even had to get a second job to do so. Of course, I couldn’t afford health insurance during that time either.
Today, if a 24-year-old illegal immigrant were to get that same lung infection and treatment, she would be covered by Medi-Cal, even though she never paid taxes nor served 12 years in the military like I have done. I think health care dollars should be spent on Californians who have earned it.
The whole idea behind Medi-Cal is that taxpayers contribute to it while they’re of working age and healthy and then the benefits are there when people retire or become ill or disabled. By giving coverage to people who never paid taxes, the whole system gets off kilter and overburdened. If too many illegal immigrants sign up for coverage, there may not be enough funds to cover California taxpayers who have earned the right to it.
In 2016, I was diagnosed with breast cancer and underwent a lumpectomy and radiation treatment. In 2017, I was laid off by The Record newspaper in Stockton at a time when all newspapers were cutting staff and wages plummeted. I was fortunate to be hired by the News-Sentinel five weeks later. But due to the pay cut, I could not afford to go to my recommended oncologist visits. Half of my take-home pay goes to my mortgage and a large slice goes to paying for medical and dental insurance and prescriptions.
I am glad to see Newsom’s recent proposal to start a California brand of generic prescription drugs; it will be a big help. But leaders should also work to create affordable housing so that people in the working poor class, like me, wouldn’t have to devote so much pay to mortgages or rent. And once Californians aren’t paying so much for housing, they can then spend money on health care. This is the change California politicians should be focusing on. It is sad that I had to consider it a “luxury splurge” when I recently bought a pair of prescription eyeglasses. My eyesight had become blurry and I was getting headaches. I fell for the “two pairs for $60” advertising, only to find my prescription wasn’t covered by the deal. I ended up paying $493 for a regular pair but got a second pair of computer glasses for free (my work is almost entirely done on computers).
I have paid thousands of dollars in federal taxes since I was 17 and thousands more in California taxes since I returned here in 1990 but have received precious little in return. And now people who have never paid taxes are going to get low-cost, taxpayer-funded health care.
In my desperation, I have come up with a solution to my problem. Once Newsom’s plan passes, I’m going to say I’m an illegal immigrant from Germany and get Medi-Cal. My father was from Germany and I did a German language total immersion college internship in Westphalia, working as a farmhand one summer. So, I can speak basic German and do a passable accent.
The beauty of this plan is that I don’t have to provide proof because one thing illegal immigrants are known for is not having documentation. Even though I’m 56, I’ll claim to be 65. I’ll say my name is Irmgard Betruegerei (the last name is German for deception) and that I came here on a student visa and never went home. It is ironic that I can’t receive veterans’ benefits because I didn’t serve for 20 years and wasn’t deployed to a combat zone but, with a little fraud, I can get benefits by pretending to do something illegal.
Frankie Bozem is the news editor of the News-Sentinel. She received a B.A. in journalism from Fresno State in 1995 and has worked at San Joaquin Valley newspapers ever since.