California immigrants who are newly eligible for government health care are being rebuffed because of inadequate communication between public agencies, Assemblyman Richard Pan, D-Sacramento, and advocates warned on Wednesday.
Enacted by President Obama amid a record number of deportations and pleas from advocates to help young immigrants, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program extends temporary deportation immunity to immigrants who are in the country illegally but have established roots. Many of them arrived in the United States as young children.
In addition to being shielded from deportation, immigrants who receive deferred action can obtain work permits and access to what are called “full-scope” benefits for Medi-Cal, California’s health insurance program for low-income residents. But Pan and others said on Wednesday that many young immigrants are not getting the care to which they are now entitled.
“There are potentially thousands of people with DACA status, who came to this country as children, who have been turned away locally and across the state when they go to the county office to sign up for Medi-Cal,” Pan said. “They are being denied the opportunity to see a doctor, the opportunity to get their medication, being denied access to treatment.”
Much of the issue lies in a lack of information, according to Cathy Senderling-McDonald of the County Welfare Directors Association of California. California has adopted a new computer system as the state handles a surge of new Medi-Cal enrollees made eligible by the federal health care overhaul, and Senderling-McDonald said the new system does not always convey that applicants have received deferred action.
“We have asked the state to expedite further instructions, to get those out to counties as quickly as possible, and to please include information about what the county staff are to do,” Senderling-McDonald said.
A spokesman for the state’s Department of Health Care services said the agency is finalizing updated instructions that will go out to counties.
“We are aware of some confusion concerning this issue, and we have been communicating with County Welfare departments to provide clarification on DACA issues when necessary,” Department of Health Care Services spokesman Norman Williams wrote in an email. “DHCS is currently working to provide counties with additional guidance on the process of enrolling these individuals into Medi-Cal coverage.”
California has already extended other lifelines to undocumented immigrants. Legislation enacted in the last few years allows those who attended California high schools to get financial aid for state colleges, and a years-long battle culminated last year in Gov. Jerry Brown signing a law granting immigrants drivers licenses.