California Budget Raises Health Care for Older Immigrants

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) – California will soon pay the health care bills of low-income people 50 and older who live illegally in the country, as part of a Medicaid expansion that aims to advance the Most populous state in the country towards the Democrats. goal of making sure everyone has health insurance.

The new coverage will ultimately cost taxpayers about $ 1.3 billion a year, money that is part of the new state operating budget that Governor Gavin Newsom and state legislative leaders unveiled on Friday night. The budget is slated for a vote in the state legislature on Monday, and Newsom will likely sign it before the state’s fiscal year begins on Thursday.

California has spent a lot of money to make sure everyone has health insurance. The state spends millions each year to help people pay their monthly insurance premiums, with the only state offering grants to families of four who earn up to $ 157,200 per year. California also taxes people who refuse to purchase health insurance.

Still, about 3.2 million people in the state are not expected to have health insurance next year, according to UC Berkeley Labor Center. Almost half of these people live illegally in the country, making them ineligible for full Medicaid benefits and other health insurance assistance programs.

Advocates have pushed for years to make all low-income immigrants eligible for Medicaid. But the Newsom administration has backed down from the cost – around $ 2.4 billion a year according to a legislative analysis – opting instead for an incremental approach.

Still, the inclusion of benefits for immigrants aged 50 and over has been a victory for some health care advocates, whose efforts were hampered last year due to an expected budget deficit caused by the pandemic.

“I have dedicated my whole life to growing vegetables and fruit in the Coachella Valley. I am already old and can no longer work in the fields. It’s time for California to think about the health of people like me who gave their all, got nothing, ”said Josefa Barragán, member of TODEC, an Inland Empire and Valley immigrant rights group. from Coachella in California.

The budget proposal also makes more seniors eligible for Medicaid by eliminating the “asset test”. In general, people with low incomes are eligible for Medicaid. But for people aged 65 and over, it is not enough that they have low incomes. They also must not have assets greater than $ 2,000 per month for individuals and $ 3,000 per month for couples.

Assets exclude secondary homes and cars, but include items such as cash in checking and savings accounts and some jewelry, excluding wedding or engagement rings and heirlooms. Anthony Wright, executive director of Health Access California, called the asset testing “An archaic policy which has made the elderly and the disabled lose their health coverage if they have savings – even a small amount for housing or an emergency”.

Eliminating asset testing will add an additional 17,802 people to the state’s Medicaid program at a cost of about $ 220 million per year, according to a 2020 Department of Health Services analysis.

The budget proposal is an agreement between Newsom and the state’s two top legislative leaders – Pro Tempore Senate Speaker Toni Atkins and Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon. All three are Democrats, who enjoy a large majority in both houses of the Legislative Assembly.

The proposal represents $ 262.6 billion in public spending, including a record $ 25.2 billion in reserves. But this is not a final budget deal between the three parties, as several important details remain unfinished. Lawmakers still negotiating with Newsom over the details of a tariff increase for childcare providers and how to spend $ 4 billion to fight forest fires and drought.

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