Up To 125,000 Undocumented Immigrants May Be Eligible For Health Care In California And Some May Not Know It

CREDIT: ThinkProgress/ Esther Y. Lee

Some undocumented immigrants living in California may qualify for health insurance and not even know it. According to a new University of California study released on Tuesday, researchers found that up to 125,000 undocumented immigrants — who qualified under a 2012 presidential initiative that granted temporary legal presence and work authorization — are likely eligible for an expansion of Medi-Cal, the state’s Medicaid program.

Undocumented immigrants are legally prohibited from enrolling in the federal Affordable Care Act, including the Medicaid expansion. But California’s Medi-Cal program authorizes coverage for “citizens and certain lawfully present immigrants” like low-income immigrants approved for the Deferred Action For Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. Some undocumented immigrants can already access limited Medi-Cal, which covers emergencies, prenatal, and long-term care. The cost is funded not by federal resources, but through state funds. Still other undocumented immigrants with social security numbers or identification cards issued by a foreign consulate can apply for private, but not state-based, health insurance, if they can afford it.

In the “Realizing the Dream for Californians Eligible for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA)” study, researchers found that of the 154,000 Californians approved for deferred action, about 125,000 (81 percent) are eligible for Medi-Cal based on their annual income. According to the report, DACA recipients comprise about three percent of the total uninsured population in California between the ages of 15 and 30. While 60 percent of DACA recipients are between the ages of 15 and 18, nearly 31 percent of DACA teens are uninsured — a significant spike when compared to the seven percent of uninsured U.S.-born teens. And about 21 percent of all DACA recipients in California have private health coverage compared to 61 percent of their U.S.-born counterparts.

“The word still hasn’t been spread,” Laural Lucia, a policy analyst at the UC Berkeley Labor Center told the Los Angeles Times on Tuesday. The Times also reported that some DACA recipients like Mayra Yoana Jaimes Pena were “skeptical that she could actually qualify for a government program” while others were “shocked” that they were eligible.

Latinos make up about 82 percent of DACA recipients — and Latinos as a whole group are particularly slow to sign up for health insurance, making up nearly 60 percent of the seven million uninsured Californians.

Ken Jacobs, chair of the UC Berkeley Labor Center said that the overall lower health care enrollment may be because immigrants are reluctant to sign up because they fear they will inadvertently expose their undocumented family members to federal immigration officials. The Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency released a memo last October stating that information provided by individuals for health coverage “may not be used for purposes other than “verifying certain eligible determinations.”

State Sen. Ricardo Lara (D-CA) introduced legislation earlier this month to expand Medi-Cal to all low-income undocumented immigrants with a household annual income of $32,000.