Undocumented Youths Qualify for Government Health Care

A California law that kicks in Monday makes immigrant children without legal documentation eligible for comprehensive, government-paid health care.

No one knows exactly how many people are impacted or the exact cost to taxpayers for the new care.

California Department of Health Care Services officials contend at least 2,917 Ventura County residents ages 18 and younger qualify for full-scope Medi-Cal under a Health 4 All Kids signed into law last year. That number matches the undocumented people currently covered by restricted Medi-Cal, meaning they’re covered for emergency care.

How to enroll

People who meet income and other Medi-Cal requirements can enroll by calling 1-888-472-4463. Or go to www.vchsa.org.

For more information on the coverage expansion, go to http://health4allkids.org/.

State leaders projected about 170,000 people across the state will qualify for full Medi-Cal. That estimate increased to about 185,000 in Gov. Jerry Brown’s revised budget plan released Friday.

Leaders of the California Endowment are spearheading efforts to publicize the new law. They predict 6,700 children and young adults in Ventura County, and more than 300,000 people statewide, will qualify for health care coverage.

They cite the 2014 expansion of Medi-Cal as part of the Affordable Care Act. It brought predictions that no more than 1.4 million new Californians would be covered through the government program over the first two years.

Instead, about 4.3 million people joined Medi-Cal. The flood included 84,000 people in Ventura County, where enrollment increased more than 70 percent.

Others contend even the California Endowment’s projection is low for Ventura County.

“This is just my gut. I really feel it’s upwards of 10,000 people,” said Dee Pupa, a deputy director of the Ventura County Health Care Agency. She cited fears about deportation that persuade some families not to apply for emergency Medi-Cal or to use discounted care programs.

“You have a population that is afraid to come forward,” she said.

The other uncertainty is the price tag.

The expansion will cost the state and federal government about $177.7 million a year, with projections that $142.8 million will come from California taxes, said Rene Mollow, deputy director of health care benefits and eligibility for the Department of Health Care Services.

But if more people than expected enroll, costs will increase.

The law allows people currently covered only for emergency care — the most expensive treatment — to receive preventive care, said Daniel Zingale, senior vice president for the California Endowment.

It means the government saves in the long run. Taxpayers will pay more for preventive care for diabetes and less for the dialysis needed when the disease brings kidney failure, he said.

“We can’t afford not to,” said Zingale of providing care to immigrants in the country illegally. “We’re either going to recognize the value or we’re going to get buried in health care bills down the road.”

People wary of the new law’s impact cited California’s economic health.

“The state is seeing news that tax receipts are lower than expected,” said Richard Thomson, board president of the Ventura County Taxpayers Association. “We’re seeing increasing numbers of companies leaving the state. This is no time to be increasing expenditures.”

Immigrants ages 18 and younger currently in restricted Medi-Cal are set to be automatically moved to full-scope coverage on Monday. Outreach efforts are aimed at making sure other people who qualify for the program know how to enroll.

Electronic enrollment kiosks have been set up at several clinics affiliated with the county health care agency. Letters about the new coverage have been sent to the 4,500 people in the county’s discounted self-pay program, virtually all of them uninsured.

Clinicas del Camino Real, a nonprofit countywide health system, has hired three pediatricians to accommodate the expected surge of new patients. Like the county, the system has 4,500 people in its discounted care program.

The numbers make Clinicas chief operations officer Tony Alatorre think some predictions of new Medi-Cal eligibility in Ventura County are low.

“It’s going to be over 10,000,” he said.

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