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(The Desert Sun) - Another big expansion of California’s low-income health plan is expected to take effect next month when the state extends full Medi-Cal benefits to low-income undocumented children.
And while their parents are not eligible for state-supported health insurance — a gap advocates still hope to fill — the change still makes California the largest state, but not the first, to open the program to poor children under 19 in the country illegally.
Among the tens of thousands of families the change is expected to help is Jose Garcia of Mecca and his 13-year-old son. They came to California from Mexico 11 years ago and are both undocumented. Garcia and his wife are separated, so he said he fills the roles of dad and mom.
On a recent Thursday afternoon, Garcia brought his Mexican ID card, California drivers license and a pay stub from his job packing dates to the Mecca Family & Farmworkers Service Center. Adelaida Gutierrez, an enrollment assistant with the nonprofit health clinic Clinicas de Salud de Pueblo, walked him through the Medi-Cal paperwork in about 30 minutes. A county office will review the application and decide if he’s eligible for benefits.
More than 170,000 children are expected to get more comprehensive health coverage because of the new law, which state lawmakers approved last year. More than 6,000 of them live in Riverside County. And while many of those children were already signed up for emergency Medi-Cal coverage, thousands more, including Garcia's son, are getting coverage for the first time that includes dental, vision and mental benefits.
The state is working to get the program up and running May 16, with coverage effective retroactively to the first of the month. Children qualify if their families meet income requirements, which equate to $64,505 annually for a family of four. Medi-Cal coverage is free for the lowest-income families, while others must pay monthly premiums of $13 up to $39 per child.
Due to its expansion under the federal Affordable Care Act, Medi-Cal already covers one third of California residents.
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