Jul. 27—Gov. Gavin Newsom during a visit to Fresno on Tuesday signed a law that gives public health care coverage to low-income, undocumented immigrants aged 50 and older.
Newsom made the announcement while signing Assembly Bill 133 during a visit to the Clinica Sierra Vista Elm Community Health Center in south Fresno, which serves a large number of undocumented workers.
The expansion comes after the state expanded Medi-Cal, the state's version of Medicaid, to undocumented children in 2016 and young adults up to the age of 26 in 2020.
The coverage would start in May 2022 and cost the state about $1.3 billion a year to administer.
Newsom appeared Tuesday during a press conference with Fresno Mayor Jerry Dyer, Assemblyman Joaquin Arambula, D-Fresno, and others.
"It's a point of pride, it's a point of principle, and it is what marks our values here in the state of California, a universal state — the most diverse state in the world's most diverse democracy," Newsom said Tuesday.
Dyer spoke before Newsom during Tuesday's press conference, voicing support for Assembly Bill 133 and thanking healthcare providers for serving vulnerable populations during the pandemic. "Everyone is entitled to be healthy, and I really honestly believe that," Dyer said.
"Oftentimes those vulnerable populations do not have access to healthcare for a variety of reasons. This bill today that is going to be signed, is going to be one step closer in making that happen."
Arambula said many of the people who will benefit from the increased health access have been essential in keeping the state's economy functioning during the pandemic. He included agricultural workers, health workers and others in that demographic.
"It is our immigrant brothers and sisters, our communities of color who are going to benefit from this increase in access," Arambula said. "It's going to be our elders, our seniors, our income-eligible uncles, aunts, grandparents, our families who will benefit from this investment and this increase in access."
About 2 million undocumented immigrants live in California, the Public Policy Institute of California estimates. State officials expect about 200,000 undocumented immigrants to be enrolled in full-scope Medi-Cal by the end of the 2026 fiscal year.
The law Newsom signed covered more undocumented immigrants than he initially proposed when he presented his state budget plan in May.
Newsom originally intended to provide full-scope Medical benefits for undocumented seniors aged 60 and over. But Newsom and Democrats struck a deal in June lowering the age threshold and covering more people.
Immigrant advocates and the California Latino Legislative Caucus heavily pushed for the expansion this year as the COVID-19 pandemic disproportionately impacted immigrant communities throughout the state.
Beatriz Hernandez said she knows what it's like to work and not have access to doctors, because she came to the U.S. as an undocumented 12-year-old. The UC Merced graduate now works with California Immigrant Policy Center.
"This is the right thing to do now especially after the pandemic," she said. "We need access to health care."
As Newsom made his way out of the clinic, he stopped to talk through an interpreter to a handful of Spanish-speakers. He was visibly emotional as he was thanked by Lorenza Cortez Barrera, a former field worker who lost her sight late in life and visits the clinic.
Some undocumented Californians are already receiving limited Medi-Cal services through restricted-scope plans that do not cover medicine or primary care. The agency will work to alert those Californians with restricted-scope Medi-Cal about the expansion, according to Anthony Cava, a spokesman for the California Department of Health Care Services.
Medi-Cal coverage for eligible undocumented adults and seniors is anticipated to begin May of next year.
The Fresno visit follows an announcement he made Monday that California state workers and health care employees must demonstrate proof of vaccination or else continue to wear masks and undergo regular COVID-19 testing.
The rules come into effect as the state continues to see a growing number of Delta variant cases. The Delta variant of COVID-19, while not more dangerous, is much more contagious than other variants of the virus, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The CDC recommended Tuesday that fully vaccinated people begin wearing masks indoors again in places with high transmission rates.
Newsom stopped short Tuesday of saying he is considering any other vaccine mandates for other parts of the state's population, but repeated how important the vaccine is.
"There are still a lot of people who are anxious, a lot of people that still need to work with doctors in a private setting to work through those anxieties," he said. "But we also realize there are a lot of people that have been misled by disinformation and we got to call out the disinformation campaigns."
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