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Why A Plan To Open Medi-Cal To All 26-49 Year Olds Would Be Life-Changing For LA's Undocumented Communities

A doctor in a collared shirt and tie, but no coat, holds s a woman's hands. An examining table is behind them.
A woman is treated at the Community Clinic's Fremont Wellness Center in South Los Angeles in 2017. At the time, clinic staff said about one-third of patients were undocumented immigrants. A new plan would increase access to insurance.
(Maya Sugarman / KPCC
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A years-long push to open Medi-Cal coverage to all Californians regardless of immigration status is a step closer to becoming reality, and if it succeeds it would benefit a lot of people in the greater L.A. area, which is home to hundreds of thousands of undocumented people.

Gov. Gavin Newsom’s proposed budget includes a plan to offer Medi-Cal to all low-income adults without legal status between the ages of 26 and 49. The program is already available to low-income people under 26 regardless of immigration status, and in May it will be opened up to everyone 50 and older.

“The city and county of Los Angeles is obviously a huge hub for immigrant communities,” so approval of Newsom’s proposal would have “a huge impact,” said Sarah Dar, director of health and public benefits policy for the California Immigrant Policy Center.

The Migration Policy Institute estimates there are 951,000 undocumented people in L.A. County, although it doesn’t have a breakdown by ages. A 2020 USC study found 70% of the area’s undocumented population has lived in the county for at least 10 years.

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Under Newsom’s plan, those aged 26-49 who qualify for Medi-Cal could start applying on Jan. 1, 2024.

“There are so many vivid examples” of how Medi-Cal for all would help undocumented people, said Dar. She noted that many undocumented workers are in the service economy, and have borne the brunt of the coronavirus pandemic.

“This recent surge with the omicron variant has shown how, when workers are impacted by sickness and illness … what does that do to everybody else through this ripple effect of people not being able to go to work and do their jobs, and then consumers that rely on those services?” she said.

First In The Nation

A statement on Newsom’s website said his proposal would “make California the first state in the nation to offer universal access to healthcare coverage for all state residents, regardless of immigration status.”

According to a state budget summary, the proposal would include $819.3 million for the ages 26-49 expansion in 2023-24; it would cost $2.7 billion annually at full implementation, and would include In-Home Supportive Services.

The “Health4All” campaign to expand coverage to immigrants without legal status dates back to the early part of the past decade, after the federal Affordable Care Act expanded health care access for millions but excluded people without legal status.

One early champion was then-California State Sen. Ricardo Lara, now the state insurance commissioner, who authored the “Health4All Kids” bill that was signed into law in 2015.

“Achieving Health4All Californians is a giant step forward for equity and equality,” Lara said in a statement posted on his website Monday. “When we won health care for all California children, we knew our work was not done until their parents and grandparents were protected.”

Angelica Salas, executive director of the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles, wrote in an emailed statement: “This is a significant step that reaffirms our belief that health care is a human right."

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The California Republican party criticized the governor’s proposed overall budget as “unprecedented spending yet is woefully short on solutions that will fix the problems that are plaguing California.”

The proposed budget ‑ along with the proposed funding for the Medi-Cal expansion – isn’t set in stone, with a revised version expected in May. The state legislature then has until June 15 to pass it; once the budget is approved, Newson will have until June 30 to approve it.

What questions do you have about immigration and emerging communities in LA?

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