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Thousands Of Local DACA Recipients Could Qualify For Health Insurance Under Biden Proposal

A sign for Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center points visitors to various services
Outside the Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center in Los Angeles.
(Frederic J. Brown
Getty Images)
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The Biden administration this week proposed expanding both Medicaid and Affordable Care Act health coverage to immigrants in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.

Health experts say if the proposed rule becomes final, it could expand Affordable Care Act coverage to tens of thousands of DACA recipients in California.

DACA allows certain immigrants who arrived in the U.S. as children to live and work legally in the U.S. on a temporary basis. Unlike many other states, California already allows DACA recipients to obtain health care under Medi-Cal, the state’s version of Medicaid.

But those who don’t meet Medi-Cal’s low income threshold are left out. And until now, DACA recipients have been barred from buying insurance under the Affordable Care Act.

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The Biden administration said the Department of Health and Human Services will shortly be unveiling the proposed rule, which would amend the definition of “lawful presence” for the purpose of health coverage so DACA recipients could qualify to get insurance through the ACA.

According to the UC Berkeley Labor Center, which has studied the uninsured immigrant population, the plan could help as many as 40,000 DACA recipients in California who don’t have health insurance through work and can’t get it through the Affordable Care Act.

Like the rest of the population, some DACA recipients have workplace benefits and some don’t — like those who do gig work or who have multiple part-time jobs but lack enough hours at any one place for insurance coverage.

“They do earn, they do have income,” said Sarah Dar, director of health and public benefits policy for the California Immigrant Policy Center. “They're not going to qualify for Medi-Cal, but there are plenty of jobs out there that either are part-time or don't offer coverage.”

Starting next January, California will expand Medi-Cal to low-income individuals ages 25-49 who are undocumented, a group that’s not presently covered. Even so, the UC Berkeley Labor Center anticipates more than one-quarter of undocumented immigrants under age 65 will remain without coverage.

Meanwhile, the DACA program’s future remains uncertain as its fate is determined in the courts.

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

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