California wants to make sure all immigrants have health insurance – Orange County Register

Speaking to a crowded room full of fellow immigrants, Isabel Coronel recalled that as a retired farmhand, she had never previously sought medical help because she had no health insurance.

Immediately after her presentation, Coronel went to a doctor’s appointment.

Thanks to a law that went into effect on May 1, residents like Coronel — who are over 50 and live in the country without legal immigration status — can now qualify for all medical services. It’s part of a Medi-Cal expansion that began in 2016 for immigrant children and by 2024 will cover all low-income adults and children in the state, regardless of immigrant status.

On January 1, 2024, California will become the first state in the nation to offer federally subsidized health insurance to all low-income immigrants living in the country, regardless of their status.

This summer, Gov. Gavin Newsom announced a budget agreement that will expand the health insurance program to the last group of undocumented adults who are currently uninsured: those between the ages of 26 and 49. That’s more than 700,000 California residents who do not qualify now because of their immigration status.

“This is a historic moment for California to achieve a goal that was nearly impossible just seven years ago,” said Sen. María Elena Durazo, D-Los Angeles, after announcing the state budget agreement. Healthcare, she said, “is a human right.”

It’s the latest piece of a goal that supporters of immigrant rights have been pushing for for years.

“We are who we are as a state because of the contributions of immigrants. We must protect, defend and truly value our workers, who should have access to all safety net programs, including healthcare,” said Luz Gallegos, executive director of the Riverside County-based TODEC Legal Center, which advocates for immigrant rights.

TODEC recently held one of several workshops to educate residents about the changes and help them enroll in Medi-Cal, the state’s version of the state’s Medicaid health care program for people on limited incomes.

There, Coronel, a 77-year-old farmhand from Perris, shared her story.

Isabel Coronel, 77. in front of the TODEC Legal Center in Perris, CA. on August 12, 2022. (Photo by Roxana Kopetman, Orange County Register/SCNG)
Isabel Coronel, 77. in front of the TODEC Legal Center in Perris, CA. on August 12, 2022. (Photo by Roxana Kopetman, Orange County Register/SCNG)

“I haven’t been to doctors,” Coronel said in an interview this week. “Often we simply relied on home-made remedies.”

Then Coronel contracted COVID-19 in the early stages of the pandemic and became seriously ill. So does her daughter. Farm workers she knew died because they couldn’t get help.

In the summer of 2021, Coronel joined Gallegos and other attorneys for a meeting with Newsom, where they presented their case.

“She was talking about parishioners, our workforce, giving their lives to California,” Gallegos said.

At the time, proponents urged state officials to cover older residents, but also to extend coverage to everyone, regardless of age or immigration status.

What pushed the needle after years of advocacy was the pandemic, which hit low-income workers hardest, Gallegos said.

“It really took COVID for people’s moral consciousness to kick in. We wouldn’t be where we are without COVID,” Gallegos said.

Extending Medi-Cal to eligible undocumented immigrants is expected to cost the state $2.2 billion, according to an estimate by California’s Legislative Analyst’s Office.

The Department of Health Care Services estimates that by 2024, more than 1.1 million residents will be eligible to enroll: 119,000 children; 105,000 19-25 year olds; 707,000 adults under 50; and 238,000 adults 50 and older, a spokesman said. The California Legislative Analyst’s Office estimates that the 26- to 49-year-old population could increase to 764,000 residents.

It is estimated that California has approximately 2.5 million unauthorized immigrants. Individuals who qualify for Medi-Cal include disabled residents, pregnant women and immigrants with refugee status. Residents whose income is 138% of the federal poverty line also qualify — an income of $38,295 for a family of four.

Unauthorized immigrants already qualified for Medi-Cal’s emergency benefits, and they were automatically rolled over to Medi-Cal’s full range of benefits when the new laws went into effect. In 2016, it began covering children up to the age of 18. This was later expanded to young adults up to 26 years of age. And starting May 1st, low-cost and free coverage was offered to people over 50.

Jon Coupal, president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, previously told the Associated Press he was concerned that free health care would make California “a magnet for those who are not legally permitted to enter the country.”

RELATED: Elderly Undocumented Immigrants to Receive Medi-Cal Health Care in California.

Not everyone took the opportunity to sign up.

Some people said they fear information they share will be passed on to immigration authorities. Others said they fear if they tap into such resources, they could be used against them as they seek a legal permanent resident card and eventually U.S. citizenship.

Marivel Castaneda of the Riverside County Department of Public Social Services has this message: “Don’t be afraid. All your information is confidential.”

As for counting as a “public charge” when applying for health care assistance, the Biden administration earlier this year moved away from rules that counted Medicaid enrollment against applicants seeking legal residency.

For Coronel – known in the community as “La Coronela” – the new law, which has been extended to include those over 50, has already made a huge difference.

“It helped me a lot,” she said. “I’ve been suffering for so long, but I haven’t seen a doctor.”

In addition to regular visits to the doctor for various complaints, she also began to see a dentist and an optician for the first time.

Her next appointment is in October. California wants to make sure all immigrants have health insurance – Orange County Register

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