California expands Medi-Cal coverage to those over 50, regardless of immigration status

Local immigrant rights groups are celebrating this week after California expanded its eligibility requirements for Medi-Cal that will remove barriers of access to health care to over 293,000 people living in the United States illegally.

Medi-Cal, the state’s health coverage program for low-income Californians, will be available to anyone over the age of 50 regardless of immigration status.

The move comes as a relief to low-income immigrant families who no longer have to worry about high out of pocket costs or whether they have easy access to a doctor, said Maribel Cruz, communications director for the Long Beach Immigrant Rights Coalition. The increased need for the expansion was made clear during the COVID-19 pandemic that swept through and disproportionately affected Latino communities, said Cruz.

For years the LBIRC has been advocating for universal health access for all immigrants and in 2013, they joined the Health4All Campaign along with health care advocates and community members to make it happen. Together they championed and passed the Health4All Kids to allow low-income, immigrant children to receive coverage through Medi-Cal through the age of 18. In 2020, the state passed Health4All Young Adults to extend that coverage for young people through the age of 26.

Before the expansion, low-income immigrants without legal status only qualified for limited Medi-Cal services that covered emergency room and pregnancy-related care. According to LBIRC, this could often lead to late detection of disease, high costs or delayed medical care.

“Especially as our communities are aging, that type of care is so crucial,” she said.

Though the expansion is meant to provide low-income immigrant communities with much needed relief and assistance, local residents say that the community is cautious about giving their personal information to government agencies for fear that their information will get turned over to immigration.

Jesus Esparza, president of the Washington Neighborhood Association, spent the week spreading the word about the health care expansion to neighbors who expressed their fear. The Washington neighborhood is located in the area with the highest concentration of poverty within the city and was one of the hardest hit by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The undocumented people in our community may not have job security, benefits and I think that’s why they’re scared because they could lose everything,” said Esparza. “It may be difficult to help them.”

Cruz ensured that applying for and receiving Medi-Cal benefits will not hurt a person’s immigration status and by law, the information of anyone who applies for state-funded benefits is protected and only used to determine eligibility for a program.

“When folks are trying to adjust to this country there’s this thought that ‘I don’t want to be a burden or ask for help,’” said Cruz. “I want those folks to know that the community has advocated for them to have these rights in the county.”

There is currently a gap in health care coverage for an estimated 700,000-plus adults ages 26 through 49 without satisfactory immigration status, and Gov. Gavin Newsom has outlined a plan in the 2022-23 state budget to propose the extension of Medi-Cal coverage for all ages, taking one step closer toward the goal of universal healthcare.

“This action reflects our fundamental conviction that all Californians deserve quality health care,” said Michelle Baass, director of the Department of Health Care Services.

For Cruz, this expansion and programs like this should serve as a model for how immigrant families should be treated in the U.S. “We’ve established a life here, we deserve to be here and we deserve to be prioritized,” said Cruz.

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Laura Anaya-Morga is a general assignment reporter for the Long Beach Post.
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