Reactions to Covered California’s debut

At the emergency room of one of the largest public hospitals in the nation, Los Angeles County/USC Medical Center, patients and relatives spoke with The Times about their hopes for gaining health insurance under the Affordable Care Act.

Written by Eryn Brown | Photography by Genaro Molina

Reactions to Covered California's debut
Elizabeth Martinez
Alfred Ruiz and Louise Valenciana
Carlos Revelo
Greg Clendening and Kirsten Heredia

Israel Hernandez and Alexa Ibarra

Israel Hernandez, left, and Alexa Ibarra are homeless and have been together for seven years. They sat outside the emergency room and waited for Hernandez to receive treatment for an allergic reaction.

Neither has health insurance. Hernandez, 28, is undocumented; Ibarra, 50, is a U.S. citizen.

“He can’t have medical insurance,” said Ibarra, “and I can’t get Medi-Cal, because I don’t have children under 18.”

Some Californians like Ibarra might now qualify for healthcare through Medi-Cal, thanks to rule changes resulting from the Affordable Care Act.

Ibarra hadn’t heard anything about that, though. “I haven’t talked to my social worker,” she said.

Elizabeth Martinez

Downtown resident Elizabeth Martinez, 42, waited patiently with her 2-year-old son Maximiliano and her 3-year-old nephew Angel Aguilar.

She and the kids were healthy, but her sister was in the emergency room consulting with doctors about a painful arthritis flare-up.

Martinez said that she has coverage through Medi-Cal, and that she didn’t know much about the new healthcare law.

“Como sabemos que calificamos?” — how do we know if we qualify? — she asked.

Alfred Ruiz and Louise Valenciana

Sitting in the pharmacy area just past the ER waiting room, 60-year-old Alfred Ruiz, left, and his 59-year-old wife Louise Valenciana were angered when a reporter referred to the new healthcare provisions as “Obamacare.”

“It’s the Affordable Care Act!” Valenciana reprimanded.

A school principal who was laid off exactly five years ago, she waited to be seen by doctors who would check her veins in preparation to start dialysis. Valenciana has end stage kidney disease. She and Ruiz, who have some income from her retirement plan, found their Medi-Cal co-pays to be too expensive.

“We’re excited. We’ve been waiting for it to kick in,” Valenciana said. She has already visited the Covered California website and believes she and her husband will qualify for a subsidized insurance plan.

Carlos Revelo

Carlos Revelo, 60, has been having trouble with his left calf and has an upcoming appointment to see a doctor. On this day, he visited County/USC’s Trailer 17, where patients go to settle bills and, in some cases, to figure out if they qualify for government assistance.

Patient financial service representatives at the hospital have been instructed on how the Affordable Care Act will change healthcare coverage and delivery for County/USC patients, 70% of whom are uninsured.

Revelo, a former building maintenance worker who lives in Los Angeles and was laid off eight months ago, said he knew changes were coming but hadn’t looked into the details. He said he didn’t have an opinion about the law just yet.

“If it works, fine,” he said. “If it doesn’t work…”

He smiled, and shrugged.

Greg Clendening and Kirsten Heredia

Kirsten Heredia, 45, right, of Temple City, had come to Trailer 17 to help her friend Greg Clendening, 51, reapply for the Healthy Way LA program. Clendening, an El Monte resident who has a mechanical heart valve and needs medication to stay well, had let his coverage in the county program lapse.

Under the Affordable Care Act, he will become a Medi-Cal patient. Clendening said he knew that people who don’t get coverage by 2014 will have to pay a penalty when they file income taxes. He wondered why it had taken so long for something like Obamacare to happen.

“Our government is real slow to help us out,” he said.

Heredia said she thought the changes were “a good thing.” At the moment, she doesn’t have insurance herself, she added.