Child Watch® Column: "Three Sisters, Three Illnesses, No Health Coverage"

Release Date: March 9, 2007

Marian Wright Edelman

The Children's Defense Fund is working tirelessly to raise awareness about the ways families across the country are struggling to get their children the health care they need. Here's the story of a California family where three daughters all struggle with serious health issues without health coverage.

Janneth, Brenda, and Guadalupe, sisters who live in Alameda County just outside San Francisco, all have severe medical conditions.  Janneth, 16, the oldest, has chronic tonsillitis; Brenda, 13, has asthma; and Guadalupe, 9, has anemia.  None of the girls have health care coverage.  Over the past year, Janneth has missed several days of school because of the symptoms associated with tonsillitis, including fever, frequent coughing, throat swelling, inability to eat, and weakness.  This has resulted in a significant decrease in her grades.  Brenda can't participate in moderate and heavy physical activities, including physical education, because she doesn't have an Albuterol pump to help manage and control her asthma.  She worries that she may have an asthma attack and need to be rushed to the emergency room.  Guadalupe misses occasional school days because of her anemia.  Anemia is normally a controllable illness with proper vitamins and medicine, but because her family can't afford the medicine to treat her condition, Guadalupe suffers from fatigue, loss of appetite, and hair loss.

The last time all three girls had health coverage was about a year ago.  Their mother, Teresa, says they lost coverage because the Medicaid office received her reauthorization packet late.  Teresa reapplied two more times but the Medicaid office said the second and third reapplication packets arrived late as well.  As Teresa says, "That's all they ever say... 'Your papers arrived late!'"  Frustrated, Teresa went to her social worker at her local health clinic, Clinica de la Raza, for help, and sent in a fourth reapplication packet.  Teresa also left a voicemail message for her caseworker at the Medicaid office giving them her new telephone number and requesting an update on the status of her children's health coverage.  So far, she still hasn't received a call back.

Teresa confides that she is worried especially about Janneth and Brenda.  Last year, the last time Janneth was seen by her medical provider, she was advised to have her tonsils removed because of her chronic tonsillitis.  But because Janneth lost her health coverage, she hasn't been able to have the operation.  Teresa also worries about how to meet all of her family's basic other needs.  She reports she had to leave her employment at a fabric factory to care for her sick daughters.  Her husband works, but he doesn't earn enough to cover all the family's expenses, and they now have additional debt because of unpaid medical expenses from the past year.

Teresa says, "I just don't know how we are going to pay for rent, utilities, food, and everything else.  I'm always stealing from Peter to pay Paul."

Should any parents have to watch their children struggle against preventable or treatable illnesses this way, or watch their family fall further and further into debt as they try to keep up with the help their children need?  If you believe our nation can do better for its families, then you need to tell your elected officials that we and they must do better and make health coverage for all children with a streamlined enrollment process a reality this year.