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Health Insurance for Immigrants without Lawful Presence

by John Hansen

Illegal immigrant adults who do not have lawful presence in California can now get restricted Medi-Cal health insurance coverage by enrolling through the California Health Exchange, Covered California. They must have a household income that is less than or equal to 138% of the Federal Poverty Level (FPL) to qualify.

The Debate: Should the Affordable Care Act Include Health Insurance for Illegal Immigrants?

In 2010, when the Affordable Care Act (ACA) was front and center in the media, this was a hot button issue. Conservatives in California were concerned that they would end up footing the bill for health insurance for immigrants who were not lawfully present. However, the reality is that we only have two options:

  1. Pay for health care for illegal immigrants.
  2. Refuse to service illegal immigrants with health care needs.

Most Californians can’t stomach the idea of leaving people outside the hospital to die, so option #2 isn’t really an option. Health care for immigrants must be provided, and someone has to pay for it.

Private Health Care Organizations Have Footed the Bill for Illegal Immigrant Medical Services

Before Health Care Reform and up until recently, usually private hospitals got stuck with the bill. Uninsured immigrants would show up at their doorstep with medical needs, and these private health care organizations, had to service them even though they would get compensation neither from the client nor the government.

No one thought that private hospitals should have to foot the bill for health care services rendered to uninsured illegal immigrants, but many didn’t want their tax dollars to pay for health care for those who are not lawfully present.

The Government Should Pay for Health Care for Immigrants

The reality is that any way we look at it, we need to provide some sort of health insurance for immigrants who are not lawfully present, and the government, not private health care organizations, should be the one paying for this. Toward this end, some limited medical coverage in California is now being offered to illegal immigrants through Medi-Cal.

Health Insurance Options for Immigrants Who Are Not Legally Present

Immigrants who do not have lawful presence can enroll through the Covered California website to get access to restricted Medi-Cal coverage. Also, they have the option of buying private health insurance coverage. In some counties in California, health insurance for immigrants is offered through special government plans.

According to Covered California, illegal immigrants do not qualify to buy medical coverage through the California Health Insurance Exchange. However, Medi-Cal health insurance for immigrants may be purchased through Covered California even for individuals and families who are not lawfully present.

Medi-Cal benefits may be limited, especially for illegal adults. Health care for immigrants who are not lawfully present can also be purchased through private health insurance plans outside of Covered California. Also, some county agencies in California offer government health insurance for immigrants who are not lawfully present.