Medi-Cal coverage of undocumented children needs work, advocates say

By David Fergusen

Advocates have mostly praised Democratic California Gov. Jerry Brown's decision to expand Medi-Cal, the state's Medicaid program, to include healthcare coverage for approximately 170,000 poor immigrant children, Kaiser Health News reports.

The measure, which was first announced last month, has been greeted as a big step up for the state's undocumented immigrants, but activists and others say that it does not go far enough because it does not guarantee access to doctors, nor does it cover adults. 

California is the first state in the union to attempt to cover undocumented immigrant children, reported in June. 

Prior to the Medi-Cal expansion, immigrant children have had to rely on emergency department visits and neighborhood clinics for healthcare, according to the KHN article. There are about 1.16 million low-income adults in California illegally, which makes them ineligible for comprehensive Medi-Cal coverage. 

Typically, it is difficult to get undocumented workers to sign on for healthcare benefits even when they are eligible. This is particularly true among Latinos, who research shows comprise the largest ethnic minority group in the country, but are also the most underserved by both insurers and providers, FierceHealthPayer has reported.

"We have a big challenge ahead of us to dispel the perception that undocumented people are forever left out," Daniel Zingale, senior vice president at The California Endowment, a group that is involved with California's "Health for All" initiative, told KHN.

University of California researchers found that many adults younger than 30 who have been granted temporary legal status remain uninsured in spite of the fact that they qualify for assistance, according to the article. Some do not know that they qualify for coverage. Others are concerned about possible effects on their family members who are also undocumented. 

To learn more:
- read the Kaiser Health News article
- here's the report