Expanded Medi-Cal for undocumented kids: What it means and how to apply

Expanded Medi-Cal for undocumented kids
What it means and how to apply

THE TORCH: CONTENTSBy Gabrielle Lessard, NILC health policy attorney
JULY 28, 2016

This summer, California kids have access to more than the state’s famous beaches. Under a new law that took effect this spring, all low-income California residents under age 19 are eligible to receive comprehensive health care through Medi-Cal, the state’s Medicaid program. Children and youth who did not meet immigration status requirements were previously eligible for only “restricted scope” emergency and pregnancy services.

California is not the first state to provide comprehensive health care to low-income children regardless of their immigration status—New York, Illinois, Washington, Massachusetts and Washington, DC, all preceded California. However, the number of undocumented residents in California is significantly higher than in the other states. Just prior to the implementation of the Medi-Cal eligibility expansion, there were close to 135,000 children and youth enrolled in restricted-scope Medi-Cal. These beneficiaries are being transitioned into full-scope coverage without having to submit an application; however, they need to choose a primary physician and, in some counties, a health plan.

Many newly eligible children and youth were not enrolled in restricted scope coverage and will need to submit a Medi-Cal application. These include a significant number of children served through a program operated as a charitable activity of the Kaiser Foundation Health Plan, children enrolled in county-operated programs, and those without a current source of health care or coverage.

Advocates for children, immigrants, and access to health care recognized that outreach and education were needed to reach families whose children were not currently connected to the health-care system. Resources were required both to inform families about the Medi-Cal expansion and to reassure them that it was safe to enroll their children. The advocates collaborated in the development of a Health4AllKids website that provides information in English and Spanish and a toolkit for community-based organizations to use in doing outreach. The California Endowment, a statewide health foundation, developed and distributed signs, shirts, flyers, and other resources to support outreach, and produced and placed advertisements informing consumers of the expansion.

Expanding Medi-Cal to all kids was an important step forward for California. But until all California residents have access to comprehensive, affordable health care, our children and youth will continue to suffer the financial insecurity and emotional pain of having family members without insurance. NILC and our partners will continue working until we have #Health4All