Does Lack of California ID Justify Barring Access to Medicine?

The back of a California Driver’s License says that it does not “establish eligibility for employment, voter registration and public benefits.” It leaves out that it does establish whether someone can get access to behind-the-counter medication in this country — at least at Walmart.

Last week I was diagnosed with pneumonia, but decided to fly into the snopocalypse of New York anyway for a summit, which was apparently a stupid idea not just because of the cold, but because of the changes in pressure inflicting pain on my entire face during landing. Then, after a job interview on Monday, I had to cycle 10 miles in the cold dark rain, while on conference call and tweeting about it — all in the spirit of undocumented youth productivity — which was called a “death-wish.”

By Wednesday, I couldn’t breathe well, and with my fever escalating, went to the hospital where I had antibiotics pumped into my system and some sort of “respiratory recovery.” My health care costs are escalating out of proportion, even with health insurance, so I told the doctor I could not afford the prescribed medication. $192 for 10 pills and an inhaler was too much, and my insurance would not cover it. We figured out what to do: continue the inhaler for two weeks and get Mucinex D for my congestion.

Mucinex D is behind the counter, though it doesn’t require prescription. I had my Fijian passport with me as identification. The lady behind the counter scrutinized it, asking me where the identification came from.

“Fiji,” I replied.

“No, but where? This is not a valid ID. We need to see your California driver’s license.”

I don’t drive. I would rather cycle because it is good for me and the environment. And no one tells my proud Indo-Fijian self that my passport is not valid for identification. “It is from the island country of Fiji in the South Pacific region and completely valid. I travel with it all the time. Why can’t I buy medication with it? What seems to be the problem?”

She ignored me and called over a coworker, waving my passport in the air and saying, “She does not have a California ID. Can we take this government ID? I cannot input these numbers in the system.”

Oh yes, how could I forget about the obsession with numbers, especially 9-digit ones? My Fijian passport has a 6-digit one that I finally noticed yesterday for the first time in my life. Numbers didn’t mean anything to us while growing up — we only had 750,000 people in our country. But I bit down on my lips, trying to focus on something else and remain the “model minority” that I usually am in these situations.

The other co-worker threw a glance towards the beautiful blue passport being waved in the air. Can you guess the next words I hear?

“Is it from Mexico?”

Okay, wow. I cannot begin to state precisely all the things that are wrong with those four words (no offense to my friends from Mexico, of course). This is when I’d had enough. I had to get my passport out of her hands and keep it safe for my next travel adventure, and demanded it back immediately.

Outside, it was raining. I was still very weak, but had to ride home. Plan A of getting in line and following the law of the land had failed me as a person who just needed to buy some medication. It’s not like I wanted FREE health care — I was PAYING for it.

Later, I was told by a friend that the reason they wouldn’t give me the Mucinex D was because it could be “abused” and they “tracked it.” Alright, thanks for teaching me that I can abuse this drug — I am a shameful San Franciscan that has neither smoked nor inhaled. My knowledge of substance abuse is limited to the fact that we should not share needles and that Oakland supposedly smells like pot.

Still, it doesn’t justify denying me access to necessary medicine. Thankfully, another pharmacy could care less and they took my “illegal” money. A win for them, a loss for Walmart.

Photo Credit: No Borders and Binaries

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