California will ring in the new year as the first state to provide health insurance to all unauthorized immigrants.
Beginning January 1, all undocumented immigrants, regardless of age, will be eligible for Medi-Cal, California’s counterpart of the federal Medicaid program for low-income people.
Previously, undocumented immigrants were ineligible for comprehensive health insurance but may access emergency and pregnancy-related treatments through Medi-Cal provided they met eligibility restrictions, which included income limits and California residency in 2014.
Undocumented children were allowed to join Medi-Cal in 2015, thanks to legislation approved by then-Gov. Jerry Brown. Gov. Gavin Newsom signed legislation in 2019 expanding full-scope Medi-Cal access for young adults aged 19 to 25, regardless of citizenship or immigration status. The program was then expanded to allow older persons aged 50 and up to receive full benefits, regardless of immigration status.
According to California State Senator Mara Elena Durazo, the last expansion, which takes effect on Jan. 1, will make about 700,000 undocumented residents between the ages of 26 and 49 eligible for full coverage.
“This historic investment speaks to California’s commitment to health care as a human right,” Durazo said in a statement in May.
“In California, we believe everyone deserves access to quality, affordable health care coverage – regardless of income or immigration status,” Gov. Newsom’s office said in response to an ABC News request for comment. “Through this expansion, we’re making sure families and communities across California are healthier, stronger, and able to get the care they need when they need it.”
California’s plan to expand coverage has not been without its detractors. The California Senate Republican Caucus criticized the move in an analysis of the 2022-23 governor’s budget.
“Medi-Cal is already strained by serving 14.6 million Californians – more than a third of the state’s population. Adding 764,000 more individuals to the system will certainly exacerbate current provider access problems,” the caucus wrote last year.
However, studies have shown that undocumented immigrants use fewer healthcare resources than do non-immigrants.