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Medi-Cal Expands Health Coverage For Young Adults Who Can’t Prove Legal Residence

A flyer at the Family Health Centers of San Diego clinic in southeast San Die...

Photo by Tarryn Mento

Above: A flyer at the Family Health Centers of San Diego clinic in southeast San Diego advertises Medi-Cal enrollment assistance to uninsured patients but features a now-outdated list of requirements that include legal California residency, Dec. 31, 2019.

California is removing barriers to health care that keep some people from seeing a doctor. A law that began this new year extends the state's Medicaid services, called Medi-Cal, to low-income young adults who may be in the U.S. illegally.

The change expands full-scope Medi-Cal benefits, including medical, dental, mental health and vision care for 19- to 25-year-olds regardless of immigration status. The group was previously restricted to emergency care coverage or limited scope insurance for specific events, such as a pregnancy or long-term disability.

State and county agencies estimate the expansion will affect 90,000 immigrants in California who also meet income requirements, including about 10,000 in San Diego. A local health clinic official said the change will improve health outcomes and reduce costly emergency care that's covered by taxpayers.

Jeff Gering is vice president of support services and planning at Family Health Centers of San Diego. He said the change will allow patients to get care before a health need becomes dire and results in an expensive hospitalization.

"You can treat someone for a medical condition in an outpatient setting for a fraction of the cost," Gering said.

The change is especially helpful for mental health care needs; suicide is the second-leading cause of death for young adults, he said.

Reported by Tarryn Mento , Video by Andi Dukleth

"If treated early and under treatment, you can prevent a hospitalization," he said.

The state budget included $98 million to cover the expansion. California previously extended full scope Medi-Cal benefits to children under 19 regardless of immigration status in 2016.

Rick Wanne, who oversees eligibility for the county's public assistance programs, said the region doesn't anticipate a major change in operations for the latest expansion because half of the newly eligible San Diegans are already enrolled in emergency or restricted Medi-Cal coverage, leaving about 5,000 expected new applicants.

"It's not a significant size for us and we'll be ready to enroll them if they choose to apply," said Wanne, also the secretary-treasurer of the County Welfare Directors Association of California.

Immigrants without legal status became concerned about enrolling in Medi-Cal following the Trump Administration's public charge proposal. The rule would potentially jeopardize their chances to get a green card if they relied on some forms of public assistance. The policy was put on hold by a New York-based federal judge in October after multiple organizations and jurisdictions filed suit.

Wanne said people who meet Medi-Cal requirements should still seek coverage through the program because no changes have occurred while the rule is being challenged in court.

"Currently there's no impact or restriction from public charge locally, so we encourage everybody who is eligible and needs the health care services to apply," he sad.

The Family Health Centers of San Diego is working with San Diego Legal Aid to help any patients who may be concerned about enrolling in Medi-Cal.

Listen to this story by Tarryn Mento.

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Tarryn Mento
Health Reporter

opening quote marksclosing quote marksThe health beat is about more than just illness, medicine and hospitals. I examine what impacts the wellness of humans and their communities.

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