Jan. 14--Some 27,000 undocumented California senior citizens would receive Medi-Cal benefits under a funding proposal from Gov. Gavin Newsom.
Advocates and lawmakers who have supported universal health care coverage said they were satisfied that Newsom included $80.5 million to expand Medi-Cal benefits to seniors, age 65 and older, regardless of immigration status. If the proposal makes it in the final budget, benefits would begin Jan. 1, 2021.
Medi-Cal is the state's health care insurance for low-income families.
The proposed funding was part of Newsom's $222 billion spending plan for 2020-21 released on Friday.
On Monday, Assemblyman Joaquin Arambula applauded Newsom for "continuing to work toward universal coverage in California." Arambula, D-Fresno, last year said he was going to continue to push to expand health care options for all Californians.
But at least one expert called it a bad idea that would encourage people to enter the country illegally to get medical care.
Andrew Arthur, a fellow in law and policy with the Center for Immigration Studies, said the financial costs associated with this proposal would be significant.
"From an immigration standpoint, ... it would encourage individuals to enter the United States to take advantage of this benefit," he said.
It could also attract fraudulent visa applicants, claiming to be visiting the country as tourists, but they would remain in the country to get medical care, Arthur said.
Arambula said he anticipates the Assembly will support this budget measure as it moves forward. During discussions last year about expanding Medi-Cal benefits to young undocumented adults, Arambula said, many of the advocates "spoke of the need to take care of those who have taken care of us."
Beginning this year, California began to offer full-scope Medi-Cal benefits to young undocumented adults, age 19 through 25. Young people under 19 were already eligible to receive Medi-Cal benefits under a law passed in 2015.
Preventive care is key to catch diseases before they get worse and more costly to treat, noted Arambula, a doctor.
"I believe that health care is a human right," Arambula said, echoing past statements. "Our health care system should do better and can do better."
Sarah Dar, senior policy manager with the California Immigrant Policy Center, said the program ultimately might benefit more immigrants than the administration's initial estimate of 27,000 people.
If approved, once enrollment gets going, the number could be much higher. Dar said she couldn't provide a more detailed enrollment estimate. Officials with the California Department of Health Care Services did not provide those estimates Monday.
Dar said her organization had been pushing for many years for more medical coverage for undocumented seniors.
"They are the ones who need the care the most," she said.
This population group has gone their entire life without preventive care and health check-ups, Dar said, and while many of them work and pay taxes, they're not eligible for Medicare and social security benefits.
"Later in life, health issues become the most exacerbated," she said.
Rachel Linn Gish, with Health Access California, agreed that this population group has the "highest needs."
"We are really excited that our seniors will be able to access health care if this is enacted," she said.
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