Sundaram, Viji


VIJI SUNDARAM works as health care editor with New America Media in San Francisco, covering health issues in the immigrant communities. Her national expose in 2001 on McDonald’s use of beef in its french fries won her two investigative reporting awards.

The Castaway Elders: Living Alone and Poor

By Viji Sundaram

New America Media

Somehow, the dozen or so hats piled atop Brenda Washington’s wardrobe and those hanging from hooks on her apartment walls initially draw a visitor’s gaze away from all the other items that clutter her 8 x 10-foot room.

Hats, some of them rather fancy, are the last things you’d expect to see in such profusion in a room where someone clearly lives in dire straits. Washington’s closet is crammed with clothes. “I paid a lot for some of them, like my London Fog,” she says of a coat. “I dress for success. Is there anything wrong with that?”

But signs of better times are few for Washington, 64, who says she hates living alone in a Central City single-room occupancy (SRO) hotel room.

Coordinating Health Care for California's 'Dual Eligibles'

By Viji Sundaram

Seventy-four year old Willie Posey has his hands full keeping up with his own health care needs, which include diabetes, a bad knee and neurological problems. On top of that, he also drives his 87-year-old sister to the hospital for her dialysis treatment.

Posey's income barely tops $15,000 a year, combining Social Security payments with $400 a month as his sister's caregiver, and another $400 a month as a facilitator for recovering drug addicts. Both he and his sister qualify for Medi-Cal, California's name for Medicaid, the insurance program for low-income people. They are also enrolled in Medicare, the federal insurance program for elders and people with disabilities. Since they qualify for both programs, they are known as dual eligibles.

Barred from Federal Programs, DREAMers May Qualify for Medi-Cal

Viji SundaramBy Viji Sundaram

For years, DREAMer Rodrigo Perea, 18, lived under a threatening cloud of deportation. Now, Perea has legal permission to live and work in the U.S. - but until recently he was still in the dark about the low-income health programs he qualifies for.

He's not alone. Thousands of immigrants, and even many health care advocates in California who work with young immigrants, are unaware that recipients of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program may qualify for state-funded-only Medi-Cal, identical in every way to the full scope federal and state funded program that shares the name.

Governor Brown, Counties Need Money to Keep California Healthy

Viji SundaramBy Viji Sundaram

Under California Gov. Jerry Brown's revised budget, counties stand to lose crucial health care funding that would leave millions of people without access to care.

An estimated 3 to 4 million, or 10 percent of the state's population, the majority from ethnic communities, will remain uninsured in 2014, according to a study by UCLA and UC Berkeley. Some of them - an estimated 1 million - will be excluded from public health programs by federal law because they are undocumented. Some will not be eligible for Medi-Cal, the federal-state funded health care program for low-income people. Others who may qualify to buy coverage on the health insurance marketplace could miss the open enrollment period or simply not be able to afford it.

California’s Innovative Paid Family Leave Underutilized by Immigrants

By Viji Sundaram
New America Media

Janet Zamudio, a working mother of modest means, says the paid family leave she took soon after her third child, Maya, was born helped her feel “valued as a mother, as well as valued by the state” of California.

“Maya and I would have been in an absolute mess, if I hadn’t had the extra time to bond with her and spend quality time with her,” said Zamudio, who now works as an advocate with Bananas, Inc., an Oakland-based childcare resource service. Equally importantly, she was able to train her child, now 7, to take a bottle, before she could go to daycare.

Exactly 10 years ago, California is the first state in the nation to pass a Paid Family Leave (PFL) law that allows workers to temporarily leave their jobs to bond with a new child – biological, adopted or foster -- or care for a seriously ill parent, spouse or domestic partner.

In California, Thousands Die Prematurely For Lack of Health Insurance

By Viji Sundaram
New America Media

As the nation anxiously awaits the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling on the constitutionality of the health care reform law that guarantees health coverage for all Americans, a study released today shows that California has the highest number of people who die prematurely each year because they do not have health insurance.

In 2010 alone, about 3,164 Californians between the ages of 25 and 64 died prematurely for lack of health insurance, said the study released by Families USA, the national organization for health care consumers. That translates to about 61 Californians every week. Nationwide, 26,000 Americans in that same age group, died last year for the same reason.

Congressman Honda Says California’s Parks Must Be Preserved

By Viji Sundaram
New America Media

U.S. Congressman Mike Honda, D-San Jose, said that California’s parks and other open spaces must be preserved at all costs, and selling them off to close budget gaps would be a violation of public trust.

“Public lands have been acquired with public dollars,” the longtime Congressman said. “They are a community’s pride. I don’t believe in selling them off (to close) temporary budgetary deficits.”

Honda, who is a member of the House Appropriations and Budget Committees, and Chair Emeritus of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus, shared those observations at an ethnic media newsmaker briefing here on the topic, “New Vision for California’s Economy and Environment,” organized by New America Media May 25 at the offices of KSJO/KLOK.

Brown’s Budget Cuts at Issue During World Court of Women

By Viji Sundaram
New America Media

Latanya Wolf, a slim 64 year-old, didn’t tiptoe around the issue of cuts to services for women and families during a protest rally in Oakland last week.

“I am living on $160 a month,” Wolf asserted during the rally, held Friday. “But for the food bank, I would be starving. I am living the budget cuts, my family is living the budget cuts. My 2-year-old niece died of hunger.”

In recent years, California’s budget woes have been decimating school and health care programs, and other public safety nets. The cuts have affected children, adults and seniors.

“What is happening is not a Democratic or Republican issue,” Wolf declared. “It is a human rights issue.”

California at Forefront of Implementing Affordable Care Act

By Viji Sundaram
New America Media

As the nation commemorated the second anniversary of the signing of the landmark health care reform law by President Obama last week, California has perhaps more reason to celebrate than most other states for being at the forefront of enacting the law.

But “even though California is clearly the lead car (in implementation), we need to maintain that momentum,” cautioned Anthony Wright, executive director of Health Access, a statewide health care consumer advocacy group, as he released a report jointly co-authored by his and more than half a dozen other health advocacy groups here in the Capitol building on March 20.

Highlights of the benefits Californians are already enjoying from the provisions launched so far, the report points out, include:

The Challenge for Kids’ Health Insurance - Keeping Them Enrolled

By Viji Sundaram
New America Media

When the breadwinner of a Hmong family in Merced, Calif., lost his employer-sponsored health insurance coverage when he got laid off from his job last year, he didn’t think to find a public insurance program for his 5-year-old son.

So when his son got sick a few months later and had to be taken to hospital, the family had to turn to the boy’s grandparents to pick up the treatment costs.

The father believed that public health insurance programs were not as good as private ones, a commonly held belief among many members of the Hmong community, noted Palee Moua, director of cultural services at Healthy House in Merced.