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California Becomes First In Nation To Expand Medicaid To Undocumented Young Adults


Medicaid provides health care to low-income people, and California is now set to become the first state to offer it to undocumented immigrants up to age twenty-six. It’s part of a bigger plan to eventually make sure everyone in the state has coverage.


California is making the move at a time when the Trump administration and some other states are trying to restrict who gets government health benefits.


Capital Public Radio's Sammy Caiola has the story.

For most of Beatriz Basurto’s life, the doctor’s office has been a last resort.

So like when you get sick, home remedies are all you know in your life, you know. It’s basically like a “suck it up” type of thing.”


She’s 19 years old, and moved to California with her family from Mexico, when she was a toddler.


She and her parents aren’t citizens, so they’re excluded from Medi-Cal, That’s California’s version of Medicaid.


But starting in January, California will allow Beatriz- and other undocumented people between age 19 and 26 - to apply for full health coverage under Medi-Cal.


Beatiz is hoping this new policy will give her access to mental health counseling.


Even though she’s applying for citizenship, She’s still pretty stressed out about her legal status


The world isn’t always so welcoming ... it can be really, really overwhelming. It exhausts you mentally. It’s almost like I have no time to feel anything because there’s always something else I have to do.”


In California, Undocumented kids 18 and under are already eligible for comprehensive Medi-Cal. Undocumented adults are only covered if it’s for emergency or pregnancy care.


Supporters of the expansion to cover young adults say getting more people coverage will improve public health and cut down on hospital costs.


But Opponents don’t want to spend state dollars on people they consider illegal residents.


Republican Senator Jeff Stone spoke against the expansion at a recent hearing


We are going to be a magnet that is going to further attract people to a state of California that’s willing to write a blank check to anyone that wants to come here.”


President Donald Trump called out California on this.


You look at what they’re doing in California, how they’re treating people. They don’t treat their people as well as they treat illegal immigrants.”


California Governor Gavin Newsom responded by saying his state embraces all of its residents.

And he says offering coverage to everyone is the eventual goal.


We believe in universal health care. Universal health care’s a right, and we’re delivering it — regardless of immigration status — to everyone up to the age of 26, and we’re gonna get the rest of that done, mark my words!”


There were proposals this year to offer insurance to even more people in the state, like undocumented seniors.

But those efforts failed because of the potential cost.


Almas Sayeed is with the California Immigrant Policy Center.

She says providing health care is crucial given federal anti-immigrant hostility.


Young people feel that too. This proposal to expand Medi-cal to undocumented young adults is really a message that institutions are accessible to you regardless of status, that you belong here and you deserve to thrive.”


When the Medi-Cal guidelines change in January, Beatriz Basurto plans to sign up.


She’s lived in California almost her whole life - it’s her home. She’s going to college near Los Angeles, and wants to be an environmental scientist.


Beatriz says getting insurance will make her feel a little more like a Californian.


I do belong here regardless of what others say. But it doesn’t become permanent until I see that on a piece of paper.”


California expects to enroll 138-thousand undocumented young people next year... at a cost of $98 million dollars. 


I'm Sammy Caiola.