Michele Quemuel clutches her mom’s elbow as she navigates the hallway in a 1970s-era home in Spring Valley. She frowns, testing the ground beneath her feet before taking every tentative step. Her white cane whacks a plastic chair and she jumps a bit, startled.
Quemuel is 36 years old and legally blind, her sight totally gone from both eyes. She believes she would still be able to see if San Diego County hadn’t denied her health care coverage in 2002.
Back then, Quemuel was waitressing at a Spring Valley retirement community, in a job that paid $7.32 an hour. When her work started deducting more from her paycheck for health insurance, Quemuel opted out and lost her coverage. She didn’t think she could afford it.
Her insurance had been a necessity. Quemuel always went to the doctor regularly. She needed to. She’d been a diabetic since high school.
So she applied for help from County Medical Services, a program that pays for essential care for poor, uninsured patients. A county worker told her that she made too much money to qualify. The county’s cap was $802 a month. Quemuel earned $935. Her parents, retired and on fixed incomes, couldn’t help.