Full Medi-Cal coverage extended to undocumented children

Beginning this month, undocumented children are eligible for full Medi-Cal coverage for the first time in California, and health centers and nonprofit agencies in the central San Joaquin Valley are ready to enroll them.

Right now, 115,000 children are enrolled in restricted Medi-Cal, which has allowed them to receive emergency medical services. But under Senate Bill 75, beginning on May 16 they will be transferred into comprehensive, or full-scope Medi-Cal, which will pay for preventive care and routine medical visits, in addition to emergency care. Undocumented children will be eligible for the full Medi-Cal benefits until age 19.

The state estimates an additional 55,000 children who are not currently enrolled in restricted Medi-Cal could be added to the full-scope program, bringing the enrollment total to about 170,000 children. Medi-Cal is California’s version of Medicaid.

“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.

9,450Number of undocumented children in the central San Joaquin Valley who are enrolled in the restricted program and will be moved into full Medi-Cal

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 currently about 9,450 undocumented children are enrolled in the restricted program and will be moved into full Medi-Cal.

Margarita Rocha, executive director of Centro La Familia, said there is no doubt there are many children who would benefit from the new law, but she is not convinced families will rush to enroll their children because of fears about how it could affect immigration status.

The information collected for Medi-Cal enrollment is only used for the Medi-Cal program, but Rocha said “there will need to be a campaign to get the awareness in the community.” Centro La Familia is a nonprofit organization that serves low-income families in Fresno County.

There will need to be a campaign to get the awareness in the community.

Margarita Rocha, executive director of Centro La Familia

Clinica Sierra Vista, which operates federally qualified health centers in Fresno and Bakersfield, will co-host an enrollment event with the Building Healthy Communities Initiative from 3-5 p.m. May 16 at its dental clinic at 2756 S. Elm Ave.

But Reyna Villalobos, director for community programs in Fresno, said families do not need to wait until May 16 and should enroll children now in restricted Medi-Cal, “because it will make it easier to transition into full-scope Medi-Cal.”

The health center will be hosting community forums this spring to continue enrolling children and to provide a place for residents to ask questions, she said.

Barbara Anderson: 559-441-6310, @beehealthwriter