California Will Safeguard Health-Care Benefits for Young Immigrants

A new program unveiled Monday by the administration of California Governor Gavin Newsom will ensure that roughly 40,000 low-income adults living in the country illegally do not lose their government-funded health insurance over the next year.

In California, low-income persons under the age of 25 receive health care coverage at no cost to the state regardless of their immigration status. In January 2024, a new law will go into effect that would expand access to these services for all adult residents of the state who, but for their legal status, would be eligible for the state’s Medicaid program.

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However, roughly 40,000 young adults who currently have Medicaid in California are likely to lose benefits because they are older than 25 by the time that new law takes effect in 2024. To ensure that these young individuals do not lose their benefits, the state’s Department of Health Care Services said on Monday that coverage would be extended through the end of 2023.

According to Jose Torres Casillas, policy and legislative advocate for Health Access California, a consumer health care advocacy group, “providing continuous coverage means that tens of thousands of young Californians will not face a disruptions in care, keeping them covered and healthier as a result.” The state of California is once again at the forefront of efforts to improve the quality of health care for all Americans, regardless of where they were born, how much money their parents had saved, or whether or not they were legal residents.

According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, a health care organization, in 2020 there were an estimated 22.1 million illegal immigrants in the country, making up roughly 7% of the total population. Despite the fact that many of them are employed and pay taxes, they are ineligible for most federal public benefit programs.

Some states, particularly California, have paid for this population’s medical treatment out of their own coffers. Prenatal care is provided to all pregnant women in 18 states and all children from low-income families in 5 states and the District of Columbia. Both the state of California and the state of Illinois have recently expanded Medicaid coverage to include foreign-born individuals who are 65 and older.

In 2019, California lawmakers agreed to make people under the age of 25 eligible for Medicaid regardless of immigration status, making it the first state to pay for the health care expenses of certain adults living in the country illegally.

In 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic began, that regulation went into effect. Due to the federal government’s declaration of a public health emergency, Medicaid coverage for all Americans was safeguarded. This is why many young immigrant Californians who are now above the age of 25 have been able to keep their Medicaid coverage.

As of this writing, the federal public health emergency is expected to be lifted. When that time comes, every one of those young adults who is now over the age of 25 will automatically forfeit their benefits when their renewal date arrives. In its place, the Newsom administration has said it will not renew these leases until the end of 2023, giving the new law that much more time to take hold.

According to Connie Choi, policy director at the California Immigrant Policy Center, “protecting these young adults-who currently have Medi-Cal coverage-from losing coverage, only to become eligible again shortly thereafter will prevent needless gaps in health care services and medication that people need.”