Nearly 250,000 undocumented immigrants will soon be eligible for low-cost health care funded by the state government, under a plan that is now awaiting the governor’s signature.
The state budget passed by the Legislature this week expands Medi-Cal coverage for income-eligible people aged 50 and older regardless of their immigration status. It gives California the most expansive coverage in the U.S. for people without legal status.
Governor Gavin Newsom is expected to sign the state budget by Thursday. The new health coverage would begin in May 2022.
This is about treating everyone equally and fairly, and I think it will benefit everyone,” said Sarah Dar of the California Immigrant Policy Center.
The COVID-19 pandemic highlighted how the health of your neighbors and co-workers can directly impact your own health, she said. “Health care for one person is improving the health care outcomes for everybody.”
The expansion is the latest push by state Democrats to offer public health care options for all Californians. Nearly 200,000 undocumented children and young adults already have health coverage through Medi-Cal.
In 2016, California began offering Medi-Cal to undocumented children under age 19 in low-income families. Last year, it became the first state to expand coverage to all undocumented adults under age 26.
About half of the state’s roughly 2 million undocumented immigrants currently have some kind of health insurance, a rate that’s far below the 92 percent coverage in California overall, according to the Public Policy Institute of California.
Undocumented immigrants can gain coverage through an employer or a private plan, but they are excluded from the Affordable Care Act. They cannot purchase plans through Covered California, the state’s health exchange, and are ineligible for programs like Medicare.
Illinois began offering Medi-Cal coverage to adults 65 and older in 2021, but the budget deal struck between Democratic state lawmakers and Governor Newsom will broaden California’s offerings to adults aged 50 and older.
An estimated 235,000 immigrants would become eligible for Medi-Cal under the latest expansion, bringing the total close to half a million.
To qualify, people must make less than 138 percent of the federal poverty level. That’s less than $36,570 for a family of four.
Polling shows two-thirds of Californians support health care for people without lawful status. However, 80 percent of Republicans oppose it, saying the money would be better spent on something else.