How Medi-Cal’s California Expansion to Undocumented Immigrants Could Affect Sonoma County

It wasn’t until the past year that Angie Sanchez, from Sonoma Valley, and her six siblings seriously considered sending their parents to Mexico in hopes of improving their access to care. affordable health care.

Sanchez’s parents, who live in northern California and left Mexico for the United States as children, are both undocumented. As such, that means – despite being low-paid – that they don’t qualify for full Medi-Cal benefits.

In their early fifties, they both have significant health problems. Sanchez said his father’s farming and construction jobs aged him beyond his years and he was forced to stop working last year after the carpal tunnel hampered his life. use of his hands.

Her mother, Sanchez said, has only one kidney, the other having been removed ten years ago. And, she has bone loss in her teeth, but has delayed seeing a dentist due to high dental costs.

“I wish we could just say, ‘OK, let’s take her to the dentist, just for checkups,'” Sanchez said. “Once my dad couldn’t continue working, I was like ‘No he can’t continue like this, we have to find a solution.'”

Despite his frustration, the answer to Sanchez’s wishes came last week when Gov. Gavin Newson enacted a plan approving the extension of Medi-Cal to low-income undocumented immigrants aged 50 or older.

“I cried because I was like, ‘Actually, we don’t have to decide whether we should be apart or not,” Sanchez said upon learning the measure. “He’s a huge game changer.”

In order to qualify for the new coverage, which will take effect next year, individuals and families must earn 138% of the federal poverty line or less, or no more than about $ 36,100 per year for a family of four people.

Currently, undocumented migrants aged 26 or over who meet all the requirements for Medi-Cal, except proof of their legal immigrant status, may receive a restricted form of health benefits that cover the services. emergency and pregnancy care.

In 2016, California previously extended full Medi-Cal coverage to children under 19, and then in 2020 to young adults under 26, regardless of immigration status. Both groups must meet all other eligibility requirements, including income limits, to receive state-funded benefits.

About 235,000 people statewide are expected to benefit from this latest expansion of Medi-Cal, which is expected to cost California taxpayers $ 1.3 billion a year. The new comprehensive Medi-Cal program for older undocumented immigrants could go into effect as early as May 2022, state officials say.

In Sonoma County, the latest expansion is expected to benefit nearly 1,500 people by the time the program takes effect, although the numbers may fluctuate as more people become eligible, said Alycia Asai, analyst at Sonoma County. program planning and evaluation for the Sonoma County Social Services Department. .

Hospitality workers review and authorize Medi-Cal claims for residents of Sonoma County. About a quarter of county residents rely on Medi-Cal for benefits, the department said.

While the department expects a slight increase in the number of new Medi-Cal apps after the law comes into effect, Asai said it’s likely that some of the people who will receive the expanded benefits have already been in. contact with the county for the Medi restricted. – Telephone services.

People aged 50 and over who have not been able to provide proof of their legal immigrant status to receive full Medi-Cal benefits should expect to receive notifications regarding the extension. automatic benefits, Asai said.

“We already have a majority of people, so for them it’s a smooth transition,” she added.

Pedro Toledo, administrative director of the Petaluma Health Center, which provides health care services on a sliding scale, said the new law will help the center move closer to its goal of providing health coverage to everyone in the community. , regardless of income level.

“If there is one lesson that runs through the last few years, it’s that inequality costs lives,” Toledo said. “We saw (this) after the death of George Floyd and the disproportionate rate of COVID infections among low-income workers of color. “

Currently, about 4,200 of the centre’s patients are uninsured, likely due to their immigrant status, Toledo said. However, it is not yet clear how many of these patients will be eligible for the new expanded Medi-Cal program, which will increase access to preventive care that can lead to early diagnoses, he said.

“If we can catch things early, there is a chance that we can either reverse the problems or prevent them from getting worse,” Toledo added. “But if we don’t catch it until late, it often means we have to deal with a chronic problem.”

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