California: 170K undocumented children eligible for Medicaid starting Sunday

Hat Tip To: 
Emma Sandoe

About a year ago I wrote about a bill working it's way through the California state legislature which, if passed and signed into law, would have allowed all of California's 1.5 million uninsured, undocumented immigrants to either enroll in Medi-Cal (CA's name for Medicaid) or in ACA exchange policies via Covered California (with the state picking up the tab for the APTC/CSR financial assistance). Since the ACA specifically prohibits any federal dollars from being used, the state would be on the hook for 100% of the cost.

The bad news is that this ambitious bill didn't end up making it through the process. The good news is that a stripped-down version of it did become law:

Ever since Obamacare took effect two years ago, many California legislators have been fighting to get health insurance for those it left out — the quarter of all immigrants in the country illegally who live within the state's borders.

Note: The actual number of undocumented immigrants in CA is estimated to be 2.67 million later in the article; about 1.2 million of them are currently covered via one means or another).

Next month, California will make a sizable dent in that effort when immigrants younger than 19 who are here without papers begin receiving free health coverage through Medi-Cal, the state's low-income health program. State officials estimate that 170,000 residents will be eligible.

But insuring children is an easy battle to win, experts say, because of kids' emotional appeal and their low medical expenses. California isn't blazing the way here. Massachusetts, Illinois, New York, Washington and Washington, D.C., already have extended coverage to children in the country illegally.

The remaining frontier — covering adults — will be a much tougher sell — and a more significant test of California's larger push to provide additional services to those here illegally.

Again, not all 170K of these children will be newly covered; some are already covered via the "My Health L.A." program and/or other state/local programs; they'll be shifted over to Medi-Cal instead. Still, it sounds like this could result in a net coverage increase of over 100,000 more kids.

Approximately 115,000 youths also get coverage for emergencies through Medi-Cal, according to state officials. They will be rolled into the newly expanded program on May 16, but will be covered retroactively from May 1, Cava said.

As many as 27,500 children who have not yet been signed up for Medi-Cal are expected to enroll in the first year, Cava said. For minors to qualify, a family must earn less than 266% of the federal poverty level — or less than $53,626 for a family of three or $75,650 for a family of five.

I actually suspect that the first-year enrollment tally is going to end up being much higher than that, if enrollment in ACA Medicaid expansion in other states is any guidance.

OK, so this law lops off about 11% of the state's uninsured undocumented immigrant issue. As for the rest...

Sen. Ricardo Lara (D-Bell Gardens) recently introduced a bill in Sacramento that would ask the federal government for permission to allow unauthorized immigrants to buy insurance from the state's health exchange, Covered California. California would be the first state in the nation to do this, but the move would be mostly symbolic, because immigrants still wouldn't get subsidies to help them afford coverage.

In other words, if it was approved, undocumented immigrants would be allowed to enroll in ACA exchange policies...but wouldn't receive any financial assistance if they did so, which is the only real reason to bother going thorugh the process as opposed to enrolling directly via the carrier. That's why 85% of exchange enrollees receive APTC assistance.

Still, every little bit helps...