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Leu: Undocumented Need Access to Health Care, Too

New America Media

By: Linda Leu

SAN FRANCISCO (Dec 10, 2013) — Today, on the 65th anniversary of the day that the UN General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, it’s timely to remember one proclamation in particular: that “everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family.”

It’s important to reflect on that as we roll out one of the biggest reforms to our health care system that this country has seen. Indeed, the passage of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) was an important milestone for the United States, because it extended affordable and accessible coverage to millions of previously uninsured people across the country. However, as the law takes effect and the health insurance marketplaces open, not everyone has been included in the promise of reform. Millions of people have been excluded from its benefits, including undocumented and some lawfully present immigrants (such as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals [DACA] grantees).

In California, policymakers have taken steps to address those gaps, and there are health care options outside of the state marketplace for immigrants. That’s why Young Invincibles is releasing our “Roadmap to Coverage for Young California Immigrants.”

As the roadmap shows, the state funds Medi-Cal (our version of Medicaid) coverage for low-income, lawfully present immigrants who have been in the US for less than 5 years as well as for DACA-mented youth. Additionally, 9 counties in California offer coverage programs that will not discriminate based on immigration status. Our statewide network of community clinics has grown by 46, thanks to new funding through the ACA. These clinics will continue to treat those who fall through the cracks, and our Roadmaps to Coverage infographics provide more information about these options.

Despite California’s alternative routes to care for some young immigrants, too many people will remain without access to coverage. Experts project that in California, over one million undocumented immigrants will remain uninsured, without the peace of mind and financial security that health coverage provides. And other states have even fewer options.

One young man we’ve met said it best. “Thanks to Obamacare my mom doesn’t have to wait 4 more years to get covered, which I am very grateful for,” Jesus Garcia, 22, told us. However, his sister was left behind and can’t get coverage. “I really have no idea what’s going to happen …her job doesn’t offer insurance and she has a condition. She doesn’t have the luxury of not wanting insurance. She NEEDS it.”

As the immigration reform debate ramps back up in the new year, health reform and immigration reform advocates must work together. While the Senate-passed immigration reform bill incorporates pathways to citizenship, guest work visa programs and financial assistance to DREAMers, it leaves out a pathway to health care for many immigrants. Young Invincibles will be fighting to reach that vision in this country set out by the United Nations all those years ago – to provide accessible, affordable health care for everyone.

Linda Leu is the California Policy and Research Director at Young Invincibles, a nonprofit nonpartisan organization committed to expanding economic opportunities for young people.