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How Obama Immigration Order Might Affect Medi-Cal Enrollment

Families of mixed immigration status with members who are eligible for Medi-Cal now could be more likely to explore coverage possibilities after the executive-action decision last week to allow millions of undocumented immigrants to avoid deportation.

President Obama’s executive order on Thursday allowed five million undocumented immigrants who have lived in the U.S. for at least five years and who have no record of felony offenses or serious misdemeanors to apply for a program to avoid deportation. Advocates last week raised the possibility that some undocumented immigrants might be eligible for Medi-Cal.

While Medi-Cal eligibility is uncertain, one repercussion is clear, advocates said — there will be more Medi-Cal enrollment among mixed status families.

Many Californians who are eligible for Medi-Cal — in particular, children born in the state who are legal citizens — have not signed up for Medi-Cal because they live in mixed-immigration-status families.

With the fear of deportation lifted among many of those families, the ones who are Medi-Cal-eligible are expected to enroll in greater numbers, health advocates said.

“We have removed a huge barrier for children who are eligible but not enrolled in health coverage,” said Wendy Lazarus, co-president of The Children’s Partnership, a national children’s advocacy group with offices in Santa Monica.

“We know that when parents are not afraid of being deported, most want to sign up their children for coverage and, as a result, the well-being of children across California … improves,” Lazarus said.

Anthony Wright, executive director of Health Access California, agreed.

“We do think that some folks were hesitant to sign up for Covered California or Medi-Cal because of fears of impacting family members. This will help enrollment efforts in Latino and Asian households,” Wright said.

Dave Regan, president of Service Employees International Union-United Healthcare Workers West said executive action comes at a perfect time — just as the second open enrollment period has started for Covered California.

Open enrollment started on Nov. 15 and runs through Feb. 15, 2015. 

“We are ready to do everything we can to sign up this new group of people,” Regan said. “This is a big step forward for these Californians, but also for improved public health in our state.”

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