LOS ANGELES — Thousands of low-income children in California, regardless of their immigration status, are now eligible for full-scope Medi-Cal coverage beginning this week.
The health care expansion, known as “Health for All Kids,” was rolled out on Monday, May 16, and will benefit approximately 250,000 children under 19 years old.
An estimated 185,000 undocumented children are expected to enroll this year.
“It is sad that children — until Monday, that is — had to worry about hospital bills instead of their grades,” state Senator Ricardo Lara (D-Bell Gardens) said during a press conference on Friday, May 13 at the Eisner Pediatric & Family Medical Center.
Lara authored Senate Bill 4, which ensures that undocumented children enrolled in restricted-scope “emergency” Medi-Cal will be automatically transitioned to the full-scope version. Last year, Governor Jerry Brown signed that bill, along with Senate Bill 75, which includes an investment to expand full-scope, comprehensive Medi-Cal to all low-income undocumented children under the age of 19.
Currently, 114,981 children are receiving restricted-scope benefits, according to the Department of Health Care Services.
“Here [in California], we value immigrants. We understand that immigrants are an essential fabric of our society. The roof is not going to fall if we give undocumented immigrants health care,” Lara said. “We’re actually going to save money in the state. We’re actually going to be able to have preventative services so that people don’t end up in our emergency rooms.”
Cynthia Buiza, an immigrant from the Philippines who now serves as executive director of the California Immigrant Policy Center, added that this health care initiative is “an investment in the future of the state.”
“As a member of the Filipino community, I understand how important health coverage is to keep immigrant families healthy,” Buiza said. “As we celebrate this historic step towards Health for All, we will continue to work to include undocumented adults and families who remain excluded from coverage, so that all Californians have the opportunity to access coverage, no matter where they were born.”
Under full-scope Medi-Cal coverage, children can receive services such as annual checkups, regular doctor visits, vaccinations, mental health care, and dental care and treatment.
To qualify, undocumented children younger than 19 must come from families whose incomes are at or below 266 percent of the federal poverty line. The income eligibility varies depending on family size. For a family of four, the income is $5,387 per month or $64,638 annually.
Families can apply in person at their local county human services office, over the phone, online, with a mail-in application, or at a local health center.
The state-funded program is projected to cost $40 million in the first year and $132 million annually after that.
Some families may be hesitant to apply for the program because they fear that they will be vulnerable to deportation. However, community health organizations assure that information provided during enrollment will not be shared with immigration officials.
In a push to get ethnic communities to apply for the program, Asian Americans Advancing Justice-Los Angeles is working with 22 other organizations to provide “culturally competent outreach, education and enrollment services targeting undocumented children [ages] 0-19.”
“When people think of the undocumented community, they often do not recognized the diversity of immigrants in California. There are thousands of Asians and Pacific Islanders to Africans to Middle Eastern immigrants who contribute so much to our country but whose children have no access to critically important health care,” said Stewart Kwoh, executive director of Advancing Justice – Los Angeles.
The organization encourages community members to call its helplines for additional information at 888-349-9695 for English or 855-300-2552 for Tagalog.
More health care options for undocumented adults are also under consideration in the Legislature.
Lara is sponsoring SB 10, which would allow undocumented adult immigrants and Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival (DACA) recipients to purchase a Covered California health plan without subsidies, and SB 1418, which would widen Medi-Cal benefits to adults, regardless of immigration status.
California is now the fifth and largest state in the country to expand state-funded health care to undocumented children, following Massachusetts, New York Washington and Washington D.C. (Christina M. Oriel / AJPress)