Half of State’s Undocumented Likely To Qualify for Medi-Cal Coverage

Research released on Monday shows about half of the undocumented people in California would qualify for Medi-Cal health coverage if the state offered it.

That’s a stark contrast to a common perception that the state would foot the bill for almost all of the 2.7 million undocumented in California, according to Shannon McConville, research associate at the Public Policy Institute of California.

“Often people will hear three million [as the number of the uninsured in California] and they think the state would have to pay for all of them. And that’s not the case,” McConville said.

The numbers, according to McConville and the PPIC study:

  • About 30% of the undocumented in California already have some kind of private insurance;
  • Of the 2.67 million uninsured undocumented in the state, about 1.4 million of them — about 51% of them — have incomes below 138% of federal poverty level and would be eligible for Medi-Cal;
  • About 36% of the uninsured among the undocumented population have incomes between 138% and 250% of poverty level, which means they would qualify for cost-sharing subsidies to buy insurance through the Covered California health benefit exchange;
  • Another 9% make up to 400% of federal poverty level, which means they could be eligible for premium assistance through Covered California; and
  • About 3% of the undocumented and uninsured make too much money, over 400% of poverty level, to qualify for any health care assistance.

McConville said, beyond the statewide data conclusions, the study looked at regional and county estimates, which might inform the current discussion in the Capitol over the extent of offering health coverage to the undocumented.

“This study is important [for policy makers] because we were able to give some sense of the regional information,” McConville said. “For example in the Bay Area there is a much smaller share that’s likely fall below the [federal poverty level] cutoff, it was more around 40% [rather than the statewide 51%]. That’s where this study may be helpful beyond what other folks have done.”

In the most recent legislative session, the state decided to extend Medi-Cal coverage to undocumented children in California — an estimated 170,000 children in the state. Two other possible avenues of coverage were floated in the Legislature and are likely to reappear in the 2016 session: to extend Medi-Cal to undocumented adults who qualify; and to allow those who earn more money to purchase coverage through the exchange.

“State lawmakers for the last few sessions have tried to come up with options for coverage for undocumented, and we hoped to infuse the debate with some numbers,” McConville said. “We’ve seen generally support has increased for expansion of coverage to the undocumented, so now it becomes a question of how to budget for it. We’re just wanting to provide information to support that discussion and debate.”

Related Topics

Capitol Desk Medi-Cal