Immigration Relief Increasing Health Coverage; CA Kids Eligible Now

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News Report, Anna Challet | New America Media

In California, hundreds of thousands of kids in immigrant families are eligible for Medi-Cal but not enrolled, according to a new study from Georgetown University’s Center for Children and Families.

Some of them are kids who have undocumented parents, but who are themselves citizens or lawfully residing. Some of them are eligible for the DACA program but haven’t applied (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, which allows some undocumented individuals who came to United States as children to qualify for work permits and deportation relief). In California, if you qualify for DACA, you qualify for Medi-Cal, the state’s Medicaid program.

So even though broader immigration relief is still on hold, for many families in California there’s no reason to wait for health coverage.

“As we wait for immigration reform to take effect, there’s still a number of kids in immigrant families in California that are eligible for coverage now,” says Sonya Schwartz, a research fellow at Georgetown and one of the authors of the study. “There’s up to about 400,000 kids who are eligible right now who we could be enrolling in programs.”

According to the report, over 200,000 youth could gain state-funded Medi-Cal if they sign up for the DACA program and are low-income. And another 223,000 citizen and lawfully residing children whose parents are undocumented could be signed up for Medi-Cal now.

There are a variety of reasons why kids in the latter group might not be signed up already, says Schwartz.

“Immigrant families have additional barriers to getting into programs that others don’t necessarily face,” she says. “There can be fears about immigration status and information you have to share about yourself, even though there are protections for parents who don’t want to share personal information.”

“There are so many citizen kids and lawfully residing kids who are living with immigrant parents, and they’re just hard to reach because parents are busy working two jobs, they’re not necessarily native English speakers, they might not know what’s available,” she adds. “Or you might have a family where there’s an older child who is undocumented who was born abroad, and then kids born here after that who are eligible for coverage, and parents may not want to just enroll one.”

An additional 170,000 undocumented children will become eligible for Medi-Cal as early as May 2016. Earlier this year, Governor Jerry Brown announced a budget allocation that will provide health coverage for all of the state’s kids in low-income families, regardless of immigration status.

What’s still uncertain is the future of immigration programs for children and families created by President Obama’s executive action in November 2014. A new program, Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents (DAPA), stands to allow some 600,000 immigrant parents in California to gain work permits and deportation relief – and they’ll qualify for Medi-Cal if they meet the income requirements.

Schwartz says that parents getting immigration relief makes them more likely to obtain health coverage for their children, because they don’t fear exposing their status.

The executive action also expanded the DACA program by removing the age cap. Schwartz’s study estimates that some 55,000 individuals who will qualify for expanded DACA are uninsured and will likely qualify for Medi-Cal.

The programs are on hold, though. A judge in Texas put in place a preliminary injunction that stopped their implementation, and a resolution won’t come until next year.

All told, over a million Californians could gain access to coverage if and when immigration relief goes into effect.

“Four hundred thousand kids in California could be eligible now for coverage, and then another 170,000 more kids in May, and then hundreds of thousands of parents and older kids when immigration reforms make their way through the courts,” says Schwartz. “It’s huge.”

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