Governor Gavin Newsom announces intent to expand Medi-Cal to all low-income residents regardless of immigration status with record-breaking $286.4 billion FY 2022/2023 budget
TULARE COUNTY – Last week, Governor Gavin Newsom said he plans to expand Medi-Cal health care access to all Californians regardless of immigration status by 2024.
The announcement came as part of the governor’s proposal for the record-breaking $286.4 billion fiscal-year 2022/2023 state budget that boasts a projected $45.7 billion surplus. Medi-Cal expansion to all Californians regardless of immigration status is expected to cost $2.7 billion annually.
“California is tackling the cost of health care head on. Under the California Blueprint, our state will be the first to achieve universal access to health care coverage,” Newsom said. “Doubling down on our actions to reduce costs for middle-class families and expand access to important services, this proposal is a transformative step towards strengthening the health care system for all Californians. Everyone is healthier when everyone has access to quality, affordable care.”
California became a trailblazer in United States health care policy with the inception of Covered California in 2014—after the passage of the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare—but undocumented immigrants were and still are barred from enrolling in the subsidized health care program. Gov. Newsom’s new proposal builds on California’s recent investments in Medi-Cal: In 2019, California became the first state to extend coverage to all eligible undocumented young adults up to the age of 26, and this spring will expand coverage to include low-income adults aged 50 and up regardless of immigration status.
Medi-Cal is California’s arm of the federal Medicaid program—also a cornerstone of Obamacare—which provides health coverage to low-income and some disabled persons. California offers free medical coverage through Medi-Cal to individuals whose income is less than $17,400, or those who have certain disabilities.
Some 2.2 million undocumented immigrants live in California. The state estimates filling in the gap of 29 to 49-year-olds who are currently barred from health care due to immigration status will qualify 764,000 for free health care under the proposed Medi-Cal expansion. Many work and live in the San Joaquin Valley, where 55% of the total population lives in disadvantaged communities.
Hernan Hernandez, executive director of California Farmworkers Foundation, advocates for the million or so farmworkers that make California one of the agriculture giants of the world. He said 60-70% of California’s farm labor is undocumented, most of whom fall within the age group currently barred from health care.
“I think Gov. Newsom’s initiative is going to be very positive and it’s much needed,” Hernandez said, “for the individuals that put the food on our tables on a day to day basis to have an opportunity like anyone else to have some quality of life via having access to health care.”
Contributing to poor health in the valley is the worsening climate, exacerbated by industrious farming in the region. The San Joaquin Valley Report of California’s Fourth Climate Change Assessment from UC Mercedstates hundreds of thousands of people do not have water security, and most inhabitants suffer from chronic exposure to one of the nation’s lowest air qualities.
“Heat stroke, valley fever, and conditions related to poor air and water quality are common illnesses and health hazards,” the report states. “The effects of the onset of climate change are exacerbating all these issues, and the lack of investment in fundamental infrastructure, such as access to drinking water, sewage, green areas, grocery stores, sidewalks, public electrification, education facilities and health services makes rural communities in the San Joaquin Valley some of the most vulnerable to climate change in the United States.”
The San Joaquin Valley also holds some of the highest poverty rates and lowest education rates in the state. Despite growing the country and world’s crops for a pretty penny—over $7 billion in Tulare County alone last year—food insecurity and limited access to healthy choices is widespread.
Latinos are 50% more likely to die from diabetes than whites, and according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, are over two times more likely to be hospitalized or die from COVID-19. Where places like Porterville have a 12.9% diabetic rate and COVID-19 continues to lash the Central Valley, Hernandez said help couldn’t come sooner.
“Accessibility is important, especially when the population we serve has a history of chronic illness,” Hernandez said. “This is a big step in terms of policy in making sure that they have access to health care so they can treat some of the most pressing issues that they have.”