Covered California, Immigration Advocates Urge Enrollment by Mixed Status Families

Many Californians eligible for Medi-Cal or Covered California — particularly in families of mixed immigration status — have been reluctant to seek coverage. Government officials and immigration advocates joined forces to assure them health application information will not be shared.

On Wednesday, immigration advocates linked arms with Covered California officials and other government representatives to assure families of mixed immigration status that their personal information would not be shared.

Many members of mixed-status families have balked at enrolling in Medi-Cal or Covered California over concerns that application information might end up in the hands of immigration authorities. That won’t happen, according to Pedro Ribiero, assistant director of public affairs for immigration and customs enforcement at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

“Immigration status should not be a barrier to getting coverage,” Ribiero said. “Some people are reluctant to do so. They’re concerned that information they use to apply for health care coverage will be accessed by immigration officials.”

That fear is unfounded, he said.

“This is simply not true. Let me repeat that: This is simply not true,” Ribiero said. “That information will not be shared with immigration and customs enforcement.”

Covered California yesterday announced a partnership with a number of the state’s immigration advocacy groups to get that message out to as many people as possible.

Stewart Kwoh, president and executive director of Asian Americans Advancing Justice in Los Angeles, said immigration concerns are important to a large number of Asian mixed-status families, since California has the largest Asian immigrant population in the nation, he said.

“Immigration status will not be disclosed, it will be protected information,” Kwoh said. “They do not need to worry that their immigration status will be treated any differently.”

There are many “what-ifs” for mixed-status families to worry about, said Peter Lee, executive director of Covered California. But assurance from such a large range of immigration advocates — from the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund to the National Immigration Law Center — should help get the word out about the safety of Covered California application information, Lee said.

“All information you submit,” he said, “is used strictly to determine your eligibility for health insurance programs.”

“When I was first working on the Massachusetts [health insurance] exchange, I met one man who felt he was a failure as a parent because he couldn’t get health insurance for his family. That really struck a chord for me,” said Kevin Counihan, the marketplace chief executive officer at CMS.

“People are rightfully suspicious, but we know that will not happen,” he said. “And also what we do know is, this is an opportunity we have to get insurance coverage. In this day and age, that is so important.”

Covered California and the advocates in the partnership developed a fact sheet in English and Spanish. Lee said additional fact sheets are in the works for other languages, including Chinese, Korean and Vietnamese.

Announcement of the new California partnership comes on the heels of President Obama’s executive action last month establishing a program to allow up to five million undocumented immigrants who have lived in the U.S. for at least five years and who have no record of felony offenses or serious misdemeanors to apply for a program to avoid deportation. Seventeen states (not including California) have joined a lawsuit challenging the executive order.

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