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Medi-Cal now covers unauthorized immigrants 50 and older

The emergency entrance to a hospital in San Diego is shown in this photo, Jan. 3, 2018.
Susan Murphy
The emergency entrance to a hospital in San Diego is shown in this photo, Jan. 3, 2018.

On Sunday, California expanded Medi-Cal to undocumented immigrants 50 and older.

State officials estimate as many as 235,000 people will now be eligible for the public health care program for low-income Californians.

“It’s really exciting to see this finally be implemented,” said Lindsey Wade, Senior Vice President of the Hospital Association of San Diego and Imperial Counties. “It’s definitely something that, as a hospital community, we have been excited about because it is better coverage for patients.”


Hospitals around the county have already started helping people sign up for the program, she added. Anyone who is eligible can sign up online through the San Diego County website.

According to estimates from San Diego County, roughly 31,000 undocumented residents over 50 may now qualify for Medi-Cal.

San Ysidro Health has set up a phone line to help people register. Multilingual staff can talk people through the process.

Ana Melgoza, Vice President of External Affairs for San Ysidro Health, said this expansion will help older immigrants with chronic health issues.

“We know that 50 and above is important because of the chronic illnesses many people live with, like diabetes, high blood pressure and asthma,” she said. “If they go unattended, the quality of life and the life span of that person shorten dramatically.”


Raising awareness about this expansion is vital because of fear and mistrust among the undocumented community, she added.

Some undocumented Californians are hesitant when it comes to signing up for government programs out of fear that their information will be shared with federal immigration authorities.

Melagoza said Medi-Cal does not share information with federal agencies, so signing up for the program will not impact people’s immigration status.

Undocumented Californians contribute more than $3 billion in state and local taxes each year, mostly via sales and property taxes, according to the California Budget & Policy Center.

However, they are not eligible for certain benefits.

Expanding Medi-Cal eligibility could save costs and reduce strain on emergency rooms, Melgoza added.That’s because the uninsured tend to hold off on preventative care until they have no choice but to go to the emergency room, she said.

At San Ysidro Health, doctors are sometimes unable to refer uninsured patients to specialists. This expansion will help eliminate that obstacle, she added.