Health & Medicine

Undocumented immigrants could get more health care in 35 rural counties

Undocumented immigrants across a vast swath of rural California could receive basic medical coverage under a proposal being weighed Thursday by the governing board of a state program that provides health care services to indigent adults.

The 35 mostly rural counties, including Yolo and El Dorado, that belong to the County Medical Services Program currently provide only emergency medical care for undocumented immigrants. A plan before the board would add several doctor visits and up to $10,000 worth of prescription drugs following an emergency room visit to the list of services for undocumented immigrants.

“It wouldn’t be full coverage. It’s not the vision we have of health for all, but it’s an important step in the right direction,” said Anthony Wright, executive director of the patient advocacy group Health Access California.

California is home to about 2.7 million undocumented immigrants, estimates the Public Policy Institute of California think tank. More than half that population lives in Los Angeles, Orange County, the Bay Area and other large urban areas. Many of the rest live in small towns and rural areas in the state’s less populated counties. It’s unclear exactly how many people would benefit from the expansion in medical services.

The medical services program represents counties with less than 300,000 people, mostly in the state’s northeast and Central Valley.

Earlier this month, Sacramento County supervisors restored basic health care services for undocumented immigrants ages 19 to 64 who qualify as low-income. Sacramento and Yolo were two of three counties in Northern California that once provided health care for undocumented immigrants but cut those services in 2009 as tax revenue fell.

Undocumented immigrants in the state who earn under 138 percent of the federal poverty level – less than $12,000 annually for a single person – already qualify for payments for emergency room visits and follow-up care under Medi-Cal, the state’s low-income health program.

On Wednesday, Gov. Jerry Brown signed a state budget bill that expands Medi-Cal coverage to all income-eligible children regardless of immigration status starting in May 2016.

That leaves undocumented adults who make more than 138 percent of the federal poverty level as one of the only populations who don’t qualify for health coverage under either the federal Affordable Care Act or Medi-Cal or for senior health benefits under the federal Medicare program.

The County Medical Services Program is funded through a combination of state and federal funds and county membership fees.

The board meets at 10:30 a.m. Thursday at the DoubleTree Hotel, 2001 Point West Way in Sacramento.