Final CA Budget Opens Medi-Cal to Undocumented, Low-Income Seniors
Wednesday, June 30, 2021
SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- The California State Assembly is set to approve a budget bill tomorrow to make California the first state in the nation to expand Medicaid health coverage to people age 50 and over who qualify, regardless of their immigration status.
The expansion would allocate up to $1.3 billion for the program.
Jose Torres Casillas, legislative associate for the advocacy group Health Access California, which spearheaded the Health4All campaign with the California Immigrant Policy Center, predicts it will reduce suffering for many Californians.
"This is a groundbreaking thing," Casillas asserted. "It'd be beginning May 1, 2022; rough estimates give it about 235,000 that would be newly eligible for the benefit."
Opponents of the change argued taxpayer dollars would be better spent directly on U.S. citizens, but advocates of the expansion countered the state already pays when undocumented folks end up in emergency rooms, so it's more efficient to provide comprehensive, preventive care.
Jonatan Gutierrez, an immigration advocate from Santa Ana, said his undocumented parents have had to forgo medical care for chronic conditions like diabetes.
"Sometimes, we'll put aside our health problems because we are worried about the hospital bill, or we don't have money for medicine at the moment," Gutierrez explained.
Cynthia Buiza, executive director of the California Immigrant Policy Center, said undocumented essential workers were some of the real heroes of the pandemic, yet they were only eligible for emergency health care.
"Now is our opportunity to envision and create a state where everyone has a chance to thrive," Buiza contended.
In the past few years, California extended Medi-Cal to undocumented children, and then to undocumented young adults.
Sen. Maria Elena Durazo, D-Los Angeles, said adding people over age 50 to the program is an important step toward universal health care.
"This inclusion is not the end," Durazo insisted. "This has been, and always will be, a 'health for all' campaign."
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