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Should Adults Living In The Country Illegally Qualify For Full Medi-Cal Benefits?

Medi-Cal_430Within a few months, probably in May, children who live in California and are in the country illegally will gain access to full Medi-Cal benefits.

Between 170,000 to 250,000 children up to age 19 are expected to qualify.

The change comes as a result of a new law by state Sen. Ricardo Lara, D-Bell Gardens. That law originally would have extended full Medi-Cal benefits to anyone living in California regardless of immigration status, including adults, but it was narrowed to cover only children.

Now Lara is back with SB 10, which would extend Medi-Cal coverage to adult unauthorized immigrants, a much larger population.

The UC Berkeley Center for Labor Research and Education estimates that 1.26 million people would qualify. The cost to cover them would be roughly $430 million annually once the law is fully implemented, however that estimate dates back to 2014 and has not been updated, said Laurel Lucia, the center’s health care program manager. The cost would fall entirely to the state because under the law, federal money can’t be used for this purpose.

To get various perspectives on this issue, we spoke with Lara; Republican state Sen. Jeff Stone, a pharmacist who sits on the Senate Budget Subcommittee on Health and Human Services; and Daniel Zingale of the California Endowment, a nonprofit health care foundation. The transcript has been edited for length and clarity.