Posted on July 8, 2004

‘Matricula’ ID Can Lead To Health Insurance

Elena Gaona, San Diego Union-Tribune, July 8, 2004

The state’s largest insurer is encouraging Mexican nationals living in California to apply for health insurance by using the “matricula consular,” an identification card issued by the Mexican General Consulate.

Blue Cross of California officials visited North County Health Services in San Marcos yesterday as part of a statewide effort to spread the word that Mexican immigrants can qualify for private insurance even if they don’t have Social Security numbers.

Blue Cross joins Health Net of California as the first insurance providers in this state to accept the matricula consular cards as official identification, a nod to the growing power of immigrant consumers, including those illegally in this country.

A matricula card includes the name, date and place of birth, U.S. address and photo of the cardholder. The Mexican consulate in San Diego issues about 100 cards a day, spokesman Alberto Lozano said. The office has handed out more than 73,000 cards since 2002 when the new tamper-proof version was introduced.

The card has become popular, helping immigrants get bank accounts, mortgages, utility services, library cards and other services, particularly those who are here illegally and cannot obtain legitimate U.S. identification.

Police departments throughout San Diego County and the Sheriff’s Department recognize the card. Seven cities do, too, Lozano said — Oceanside, Del Mar, Escondido, La Mesa, Santee, National City and Poway.

Critics may argue that the matricula is encouraging more illegal immigrants to integrate into U.S. society, said Michael Chee, Blue Cross spokesman. But that is for immigration officials to discuss, he said.

“This is not an immigration issue,” Chee said in announcing Blue Cross’ new effort. “This is an uninsured issue.”

He said emergency rooms are at capacity, often with uninsured Latino families, and the matricula will give them a chance to seek medical care not just in emergencies.

“What we know about the Mexican population in California is that while they may be undocumented, they are working,” Chee said.

And if they can afford cars and mortgages, he said, these families are a natural target to buy health coverage.

But at what price?

A typical health insurance plan for an individual under Blue Cross would cost about $100 a month, Chee said, although plans can range from $28 to $130 monthly for a healthy 30-year-old.

At that price, 22-year-old Blanca Monroy of San Marcos said, she’d rather take her chances and visit the doctor only if she is sick.

Monroy is single, 9 months pregnant, uninsured and earns about $14,000 a year.

“I think that’s a lot of money,” Monroy said while waiting for a ride after visiting the doctor at North County Health Services, a community clinic in San Marcos. “I’d rather pay as I go.”

Irma Cota, director of the clinic, said the matricula will help break cultural barriers that keep some immigrants, even legal residents, from purchasing health insurance.

Many of the poorest working families qualify for programs such as Healthy Families that can cost just a few dollars a month.

But Chee said Blue Cross is targeting families above the federal poverty level.

The number of undocumented immigrants in that bracket is unknown, and their response so far appears to be lukewarm to the insurance products.

There are some 6.5 million uninsured in the state, Chee said, a “significant” number of them Latino immigrants.

Health Net has signed up fewer than 100 people since it started accepting matriculas as identification last June, spokesman Brad Kieffer said.

Blue Cross has held outreach events in Los Angeles and Fresno, too, and plans similar gatherings in Sacramento and San Jose. So far, fewer than 1,000 people have signed up with Blue Cross, Chee said.

Besides the price, immigrants may be reluctant to use matriculas to apply for health coverage because they fear their identifying information could be used to hurt them, said Gerry Gonzalez, director of the National Latino Research Center based at California State University San Marcos.

While Gonzalez appreciates that immigrant communities have another chance to become insured, he said, “I doubt there will be many people jumping at it.”