The Biden administration has a long list of issues it’s promised to tackle in its first few weeks in office — including getting the coronavirus pandemic under control and reforming immigration policy.
President Joe Biden’s agenda is a welcome change to 20-year-old Leticia Arcila, who lives in Atlanta.
We followed Arcila in 2020 as part of our “Every 30 Seconds” project. When we first met her in February of last year, she was on crutches. She’d fallen at work and tore a ligament in her knee. She went to an emergency room for treatment.
“The lady with the [...] billing information came in,” Arcila said. “The first thing she asked me was, ‘OK, do you have insurance?’ I don’t have insurance, so I obviously said no.”
She had a job — but no health insurance.
“[The administrator] was like, 'OK, well, your bill is $1,300-something.’”
Arcila negotiated the bill down to a couple of hundred dollars. She paid all of her costs out of pocket. Health care access is a big reason why Arcila supported Bernie Sanders for president.
“I think about, ‘How am I going to afford this? How am I going to afford that? How am I going to get any insurance that covers anything if anything ever happens?’”
Sanders supported a Medicare for All plan that would’ve expanded health care to Americans who don’t get it through their employers.
After Sanders dropped out of the race, Arcila resigned herself to supporting Biden. Now, she feels optimistic about the country’s political future. She also recently got some good news.
“I just got insurance from my job from working so much,” she said. “They gave me benefits. And I want to say that it has changed my life, having health care has literally changed my life.”
With her new job, she says, it’s the first time she’s had private health insurance.
“I have never had the ability to go to a chiropractor ever in my life,” she said. “I'm going weekly. I'm going to a gastroenterologist. I'm going to go see a therapist. I cannot believe how much one tiny thing, one tiny amount of help can change so much.”
For Arcila, it’s about more than just being able to see a specialist when she needs to.
“Even though I'm working a lot now, and you know, school’s a lot — I don't feel as stressed as I did before. I feel like I can actually handle things going on and I never thought of my mental and physical health as such a big part of how badly I was carrying stress until I got the help that I needed.”
Now, she’d like to see the same thing happen for others, like her cousin Brian Rico. He’s 18 and like Arcila, voted in his first presidential election for Biden.
Rico works two jobs but doesn’t have insurance. He’d like to see the Biden administration offer insurance for working people like him.
“I would want something to at least act like a blanket and in case something happens,” he said.
Rico and Arcila are very close. They even lived together for a while during the pandemic. They’re close in age and share similar political beliefs.
“I think it’s hard … In the position that I was in a year ago, and that Brian is currently in, thousands or millions of Americans also go through that,” Arcila said. “They're young, and they have immigrant parents who only go to the hospital [when] that is absolutely necessary, or you're like, losing an arm.”
Arcila is hopeful that Biden, with a Democratic Congress, will be able to improve the health care system.
Both cousins are encouraged by the fact that Biden has already signed dozens of executive orders on issues relating to immigration, pandemic relief and climate change.
"We expect him to really go out and do those things that he actually promised he would do,” Rico said. “For him to actually start putting out executive orders, showing that he will start doing change really has me happy that maybe this year … people start realizing this change is going to happen.”
The whole family is counting on that change: Arcila’s parents are saving money to buy a house. A pending immigration case will determine if they receive US residency.
“Things are looking pretty good right now,” Arcila said. “And you know, hopefully, things stay good. I want to stay optimistic. I don't want anything negative about anything. I just want to start the new year with a clean slate.”