|By Jondi Gumz, Santa Cruz Sentinel, Calif.|
|McClatchy-Tribune Information Services|
"You feel like you're going to die," she said, recalling when her father was diagnosed with cancer, she and her siblings told doctors not to tell him what he was treated for, worried he would give up on life.
Lopez, 54, married with two children, had always been healthy.
Neither she nor her husband Jorge had health insurance.
It wasn't offered at her husband's workplace and it wasn't something she thought she needed running a home day care.
For more than 10 years, she had built a successful business, and was caring for children from 14 families.
She was here legally, she had savings and enough money to pay her bills, but not enough to pay for cancer treatment.
Would she have to close her business and go to
What would her families do without her?
For a week, she couldn't sleep.
But it turned out she was not alone.
She had a friend who had survived cancer.
She also had the good fortune to live where the largest group of doctors saw the need to educate Latinas about breast cancer and where
And she prayed to
Asking a friend
She called her friend
"Do you know someone who will see me?" she asked.
Adams saw the value of health insurance after having her uterus removed to prevent cancer from spreading. She knew someone at
Lopez met the doctor. She explained that she had "balls" in her breast for five years and when she slept on her side, it hurt. The X-rays didn't find anything but an ultrasound exposed the cancer looking like little pieces of rice.
She got the news on her birthday,
Her daughter Yolanda, 27, accompanied her "so she would have someone to lean on."
When her daughter broke into tears, Eva knew it was cancer.
The translator told her not to worry, that it was early stage, doctors could operate and chances of survival were good.
Next came more tests.
When she spoke with the surgeon, he warned it would be expensive, "mucho dinero."
She said she couldn't afford to pay the bill all at once, and offered to pay half up front and the rest over time.
Since the cancer was slow moving, the surgery could wait until she got insurance, the doctor said.
But where would she get insurance?
Adams, who runs a home day care, had a suggestion.
Several months back, she had gotten a call from
Gomez asked her to take care of a boy whose mother was a field worker from
"A free program," said Adams. "I was amazed to hear that."
She suggested her friend call Gomez.
DOCTORS REACH OUT
The Healthy Breast Campaign came out of a conversation between
Chibras said he could tap state funds to cover the cost of mammograms but there was nothing to help Latino women going without insurance to deal with abnormal test results and follow-up care if needed.
That meant cancer was often diagnosed later than earlier, resulting in worse outcomes.
DeGhetaldi got a
The grant was enough to cover the cost of screenings, diagnostics afterward, treatment, transportation and child care for one year.
Gomez, 49, a graduate of
At the time she was a social worker at
"I totally understand people who don't have insurance," she said.
This job was temporary with no benefits, but she applied because "it seemed like a perfect fit."
The interview went so well "they ended up offering me benefits," she said.
DeGhetaldi describes her as an angel.
"She's the kindest person," he said. "She's been a navigator for people in the safety net. She's there to hold their hand."
When the grant funds ran out a year ago, deGhetaldi realized Gomez was too valuable to let go.
"We're going to keep her," he said.
UNITED WAY STEPS UP
Lopez had attended a presentation at La Manzana Center in
She called Gomez and asked for advice.
She learned her income as a day care operator meant she did not qualify for MediCal, the state health care program free to people living in poverty.
However, Gomez thought she might be eligible for
"It's part of 'Obamacare,'" Gomez said, sending her to speak with
The insurance program started in 2011, giving Californians with a medical condition a place to buy insurance if they are citizens or legally in the U.S.
"The premiums are reasonable for somebody in the middle," Gomez said.
Since the Pre-Existing Condition Insurance Program was created, it has enrolled 15,300 Californians, 8 percent being Latinos and just 200 in
The most common diagnosis is cancer, according to LifeHealthPro, a website for health insurance advisers.
Fernandez, who works at
"We screen to see what they qualify for, so they get the right program the first time," said Fernandez.
Lopez made an appointment for
The answer was yes, she did qualify, allowing her to enroll as of
The insurance covered 85 percent of the cost, and Lopez paid the rest.
VIRGIN OFFERS COMFORT
A week and half before her surgery, Lopez had a dream.
She was talking with her older sister Carla, who lives in
"Tell her you have cancer," her sister said.
The Virgin told her not to worry, that she would have the surgery and be fine, When Lopez heard that, she hugged the Virgin, feeling her warmth.
"Exactly the way she said, it happened," said Lopez.
Her friend Martha said the dream "gave her peace ... Peace and strength to fight it."
Next Lopez prayed for God to help her doctors.
When she shared that with the physicians, they told her to keep on praying.
Her mastectomy was successful and she's undergoing radiation.
Initially it seemed her insurance might force her to drive to
"She's blessed," her daughter said.
Morning and night, she prays.
At a glance
The women contacted by
Outreach and education 6,000
Appointments with primary care physician at Salud Para la Gente 200
Breast diagnostic procedures and surgeries 58
Receiving services after breast cancer diagnosis 7
By the numbers
If you have a pre-existing medical condition and you are a U.S. citizen or lawful resident and you've been without insurance for at least six month, you may qualify for a new health insurance program offered through the state of
The monthly premiums:
60 and older
For information, Call Alicia Fernandez at 465-2209 or go to www.pcip.ca.gov
At a glance
OTHER Coverage OPTIONS
If you don't qualify for the PreExisting Condition Insurance Plan, what can you do? Here are suggestions from
Federally funded high-risk pools: Many states including
COBRA: This is short for Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act. If you recently lost or left a job where you had group health insurance coverage, COBRA is a viable option for those with pre-existing conditions. While you will be paying much more for the same exact coverage you had while you were working, COBRA lasts a maximum of 18 months.
Short-term health insurance: This is coverage for one month to a year. Since the life of the plan is so short, some short term plans are more lenient when it comes to pre-existing conditions.
Individual coverage: Just assume that because you are turned down by one health insurance provider does not mean you will be rejected by every provider. Different companies may have different rules regarding what is considered an uninsurable condition. Examples of conditions that may fall into that 'gray area' are mild depression, controlled high blood pressure and allergies. Talk to a licensed health insurance agent to make sure you have exhausted every option.
(c)2012 the Santa Cruz Sentinel (Scotts Valley, Calif.)
Visit the Santa Cruz Sentinel (Scotts Valley, Calif.) at www.santacruzsentinel.com
Distributed by MCT Information Services
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