On July 27, Gov. Gavin Newsom signed a bill into law that allows low-income Californians who are 50-years-old and older to obtain Medi-Cal coverage regardless of their immigration status. The law takes effect next year. At the signing, Newsom said, “It’s a point of pride, it’s a point of principle and it’s what marks our values here in the state of California.”
The new law further increases the number of undocumented immigrants who will now have an easier time obtaining medical care under California’s version of the federal Medicaid program. Undocumented children and young adults 25 years of age and under were given access to Medi-Cal benefits in 2016 and 2020, respectively.
On the front lines in critical industries
California is just one of a handful of states that provide health care coverage for residents regardless of their immigration status. Many immigrants living in California work in agriculture, food processing and other industries that are considered essential. Immigrants’ rights advocates have argued that health care is a basic right. Further, these industries cannot afford to lose workers to illness and injury because they can’t get the medical care they need.
While opponents of the new law have decried the high price tag (projected to be around $1.3 billion annually), the truth is that many undocumented immigrants pay federal and state income tax as well as sales tax. To qualify for Medi-Cal, a person can earn no more than 138% over the federal poverty level. That works out to just over $36,000 annually for a family of four.
The effect on community health
The new law is expected to provide health care coverage to as many as an additional 235,000 people. Many of these people live or regularly associate with family members who are in this country on a visa or are permanent residents. They may work with the public and live and spend their time throughout our communities. One of the hard lessons we’ve learned in the last year is that our health may be dependent on others in our community.
Having health insurance if you suffer a serious illness or injury could make all the difference between an undocumented immigrant being able to stay in the country and get the care they need to recover and being deported.