Report: 125,000 Immigrants Given Deferred Action Eligible for Medi-Cal

Soumya Karlamangla, Los Angeles Times, February 25, 2014

A new report shows that as many as 125,000 young California immigrants may qualify for an expansion of Medi-Cal, the state’s Medicaid program.

The Affordable Care Act bars insurance subsidies and enrollment in the Medicaid expansion for undocumented immigrants, but a wrinkle in California rules does offer coverage for those with “deferred action status.”

The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program was created by President Obama in 2012 to grant immigrants who came to the country illegally as children–sometimes called Dreamers–legal status and work authorization for two-year periods.

Laurel Lucia, a policy analyst at the UC Berkeley Labor Center and author of the report released Tuesday, said California is one of the few states that lets youth with deferred action status enroll in Medicaid.

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The report found that 154,000 people in California had been granted the status as of December 2013. About 81%, or 125,000, are eligible for Medi-Cal based on their annual income, which has to be less than $15,850 for an individual.

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There’s no data about how many have signed up for Medi-Cal, but the fear of deportation for themselves or family members has probably kept many from enrolling, Lucia said. Federal authorities have said they will not use information provided to determine healthcare eligibility to pursue immigrants in the country illegally.

Diane Vanette, a volunteer with OneLA who screens people at Obamacare enrollment events, recently informed a couple with deferred action status that they were both eligible for Medi-Cal.

“He was shocked, she was shocked,” Vanette said.

This issue illustrates the complexities in expanding coverage to the state’s large uninsured Latino population. About 82% of DACA-eligible Californians are Latino, according to the report.

The Covered California exchange has been criticized for failing to connect with the state’s Latino population, and for not getting Latinos to sign up in greater numbers. Covered California said last week it would spend $8.2 million through March on Spanish-language advertising, up 73% from spending in fourth quarter.

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