Undocumented Kids Soon Eligible for Medi-Cal

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Teresa Lopez is a single mother of three. Two of her kids are undocumented.

She says within her own family, there’s inequality when it comes to health care.

“It’s very difficult to find help for my kids who weren’t born here,” she says in Spanish. “I feel bad that one of them has good benefits and the others don’t.”

But that will change on Monday, when 170,000 undocumented children in California become eligible for comprehensive health care through the state’s Medi-Cal program for people who are low income.

Then, all of Lopez’ kids will have the same access to routine doctor visits, dental, and mental health care.


Some parents have been reluctant to sign up their kids, for fear of exposing other adult family members to risk of deportation, or of compromising future efforts to obtain legal status.

Lawmakers are touring the state through the weekend, stopping in Los Angeles, Fresno, and Orange County to dispel those fears. They’re reassuring families that no information used to enroll children in coverage will be shared with immigration officials. And they’re touting the benefits of coverage.

They say children who have health insurance do better in school, are more likely to get a high school diploma, and are less likely to become entwined in the criminal justice system.

Sen. Ricardo Lara, D-Long Beach, the author of the bill that expanded full Medi-Cal coverage to undocumented children, said kids will no longer have to forgo care for a broken arm or hospitalization because their parents can’t pay for it.

“Children shouldn’t be worrying about how their parents are going to afford their health care,” he said Thursday at the Mission Neighborhood Health Center, a community clinic in San Francisco. “Children should be focused on their education.”

The expanded Medi-Cal program will cost the state $40 million this year and $132 million each year after that.

Critics say the program is too expensive and will allow families who are here illegally to set down deeper roots.

Sen. Lara said the program will be a test for that. He wants to demonstrate that offering health insurance to kids will have overall benefits for the economy, so that he can make a case for extending health insurance to undocumented adults, too.

He is sponsoring two bills this year. One of them, SB 10, would allow undocumented adults to buy unsubsidized health plans through the state exchange, Covered California. Another, SB 1418, would extend Medi-Cal benefits to income-eligible adults, regardless of immigration status.

“We’re going to be able to take care of our abuelitos and abuelitas, our aunts and uncles, who have sacrificed their entire lives in this country and in this state to make it a better place, ensuring they also have some sort of care,” Lara said.