Undocumented children eligible for full Medi-Cal Benefits in Merced County


People up to age 19 can enroll for full-scope health benefits as of Monday
About 1,600 undocumented children in Merced County received restricted benefits prior to change
State funds will cover majority of expansion costs

Merced residents gather April 28, 2016, for a rally in front of the Public Health Department to encourage health care services for everyone. Monica Velez mvelez@mercedsun-star.com

As of Monday, people under age 19 are now eligible to apply for full-scope health benefits under Medi-Cal, regardless of their immigration status.
Under SB 75, the law signed by Gov. Jerry Brown last year, undocumented children will now be able to receive preventive care and routine medical visits covered by the state’s version of Medicaid, the social health care program for people with low incomes. The expanded benefits include vaccines, specialty care, hospitalization, prescription drugs and emergency care.
Prior to the law taking effect, approximately 1,600 Merced County children lacking legal immigration status were eligible for restricted-scope Medi-Cal benefits that covered only emergencies, life-threatening situations, severe illnesses, and pregnancy services and prenatal care. Children still will receive those services along with others, including dental services under the Denti-Cal program.
Eligibility for full-scope Medi-Cal benefits is based on the ratio of family members and family income. Families meeting the poverty level can receive free benefits while families above the poverty level will pay up to $13 per child, the maximum payment being $39 a month.
Children already covered by the restricted-scope Medi-Cal do not need to reapply for the expanded service, said Corrina Brown, the family services program manager for Merced County.
Although the eligibility for the program began Monday, Brown said any doctor visits that occurred earlier in May will be covered by the full-scope plan.
The state estimates an additional 55,000 children who are not enrolled in restricted Medi-Cal could be added to the full-scope program, bringing the enrollment total to about 170,000 children.
“We see this as something that is very positive for the state of California,” said René Mollow, deputy director of Health Care Benefits and Eligibility at the California Department of Health Care Services.
The Medi-Cal expansion is expected to cost $26.2 million in fiscal 2015-16, and the state contribution is $20.4 million. In fiscal year 2016-17, the expansion is expected to cost $177 million, of which $143 million will be state funds.
It’s unknown how many new Medi-Cal enrollees could be added in the Valley, but about 9,450 undocumented children are enrolled in the restricted program and will be moved into full Medi-Cal.
Health care advocates for immigrants say families applying for the coverage should not worry about their information being used against them. Joel Diringer, founder of the Central California-based health policy and data consulting firm Diringer and Associates, stressed that the Social Services department is not allowed to give out any information regarding documentation status.

Crissy Gallarado, team lead for the Prevention Action Team, speaks to the crowd April 28, 2016, at a rally in front of the Department of Public Health before a Merced County Health Care Consortium meeting. Monica Velez mvelez@mercedsun-star.com

Merced County children already under restricted-scope Medi-Cal have not suffered any repercussions related to being undocumented. Diringer said immigration status will not be held against any participant and Medi-Cal records are not allowed to be shared with immigration authorities.
Rebekah Capron, Family Services supervisor for Merced County, said to apply for full-scope Medi-Cal, individuals can go to www.c4yourself.com or apply in person at 2115 W. Wardrobe Ave. in Merced. There also are offices in Los Banos and Livingston.
Kathleen Grassi, director of public health for Merced County, said the new bill passed to help undocumented children brings “hope for a healthier community.”
Brown, the family services program manager, said expanding coverage would keep families from having to worry about their children when they have health emergencies.
“Being proactive instead of reactive sets them up for success,” she said.
Barbara Anderson of The Fresno Bee contributed to this report.
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