Gerardo Fernández

Alianza News

Since May of 2016, Medi-Cal has been accepting applications from children under 19 regardless of their immigration status, under an expansion program. The expansion has allowed nearly 140,000 undocumented children into full-scope Medi-Cal, who until now depended on community clinics and emergency rooms for their health care needs.

One immediate benefit that families are seeing is the elimination of the copay.

Antonia, who did not provide her last name, is one of many immigrants whose children are benefitting from the expansion. She arrived from the state of Michoacán, Mexico, about a year ago and settled in San Mateo County. She found out about Ravenswood Family Health Center in East Palo Alto, and started taking her kids for services that cover pediatric, dental, and other services for her family and herself.

She does not qualify for Medi-Cal, as her children do, or any other health insurance, but she became aware that she could find health services for herself after she visited the clinic.

“I have no problem with that,” said Antonia, “I know I can come here for my needs if needed.”

There are at least six community clinics in San Mateo County, which offer affordable health plans known as “Healthy Kids” and “Healthy Families”.

The state created these plans so that no child was left without health insurance or access to health services, said Irais Bazan, enrollment and eligibility manager at the Ravenswood Family Health Clinic.

“When Medi-Cal opened its eligibility for undocumented kids, it eliminated (a number of barriers) including co-pays,” said Bazan, whose work consists in helping families like Antonia’s to get enrolled into Medi-Cal or any other health insurance program once they come on to the clinic’s radar.

Eliminating co-pays has been extremely beneficial for some families and has helped both families and clinics like Ravenswood. Some families had trouble covering the $5 or $10 copays.

“Many families don’t have to co-pay anymore, even for dental visits,” said Jaclyn Czaja, a physician at Ravenswood. “This makes a big difference when families are deciding whether to come or not to get services.”

One major problem encompassing the expansion, however, has been the insufficiency of physicians that accept Medi-Cal patients.

“Children may come to the clinics or choose to see a physician, but few accept Medi-Cal; as a result they end up waiting long periods of time to get services,” said Czaja.

People visit clinics such as Ravenswood for a variety of comprehensive care integrated primary and preventative care, in a culturally sensitive environment. Patients, 72 percent of which are Latino, attend the Ravenswood for prenatal, pediatric, optometry, dental, mental health and other services. They can also but medicines at its pharmacy at discounted prices.

Medi-Cal expansion, under SB 75 —Health Care for All Children— took effect in May 2016, and could benefit as many as 140,000 children under the age of 19.

There is another bill that aims to provide access to health care for all Californians. A bill by Sen. Ricardo Lara, D-Bell Gardens, will allow undocumented adults to be able to buy health insurance on the online marketplace, Covered California, set up under the Affordable Care Act, although without government subsidy.

California continues to lead the nation in the area of providing health care to its most vulnerable people.

San Mateo County is not the only county in the state offering low-income plans to people regardless of their immigration status.

In Alameda County, for example, there is the HealthPAC program

Danice Cook, HealthPAC manager, believes that counties and the State end up saving money by offering preventative care to undocumented people.

“These are individuals who will end up in the emergency room,” Cook observed. “So if you have a structured program that offers primary and preventative care, there will be fewer people in the ER. It is difficult to quantify the savings, but they are important.”