As of this week, as many as 250,000 undocumented children living in California can enroll in free or low-cost medical, dental, vision, and mental health coverage thanks to the Health4AllKids legislation. Gov. Jerry Brown signed the bill – authored by Sen. Ricardo Lara– into law last year, and last week, included $188.2 million in his revised budget proposal to cover undocumented children’s Medi-Cal coverage. State officials expect three-quarters of the estimated 250,000 youths under 19 to join Medi-Cal in the first year, according to The Associated Press. Before Medi-Cal became fully available for undocumented children, about 121,000 only had a limited version of the program, which only provided emergency care.
A program like this is so important, because it means kids like Alejandra, 10, and Vanessa, 12, from Ahuachapán, El Salvador can receive the medical attention they need. In 2014, the two girls left their home to find their mother in the United States. Living with a negligent father and fearing for their lives because of the gang activity present in their neighborhood, they – like many other Central American children – traveled almost 3,000 miles to get to the United States to their mother, Martha.
Before Health4AllKids, Martha treated Alejandra’s chronic stomach issues with home remedies, and Vanessa didn’t get the vision and dental care she needed. For Martha – who is also undocumented – the law is necessary. “For people (like us) who earn minimum wage, how were we going to pay for rent, food, and our children’s healthcare?” she told Fusion. “To pay for one thing, you have to ignore another.”
St. John’s Well Child & Family Center in Los Angeles already treated children prior to the legislation, but they are actively working to get more families enrolled in Medi-Cal. Health promoters are similarly trying to make parents aware of this program for their children, and it’s proving difficult. Those who don’t speak English – especially migrant workers and recently arrived Central Americans who speak languages like Mixteco and Triqui – might not receive the brochures they need to understand what’s happening. Also, some Asians and Pacific Islanders think the program only extends benefits for Latinos, which is untrue.
Limited budgets also make it hard for Los Angeles schools to inform parents. “They’re asking us to come up with our own fliers and that’s an issue because our schools don’t have money for paper and ink,” said Claudia Carolina Hernandez, an enrollment coordinator working with several Los Angeles schools.
While Medi-Cal coverage for undocumented children is a step forward, some – like Robin Hvidston, executive director of We the People Rising – say this invites more undocumented families to California. But Lara and others are fighting for more progress. At a rally outside the state Capitol, activist celebrated the expansion of coverage, but also said that Medi-Cal should cover undocumented immigrants who meet the income requirements. Lara said, “While Congress remains gridlocked with stereotypes and hateful rhetoric, California remains as a hopeful beacon that tells people, ‘Immigrants, you matter. Immigrants, you contribute to our economy. Immigrants, you are people that deserve to have health care.”