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A half-dozen states plus Washington, D.C., have extended Medicaid benefits to children in the country illegally.
When Dolores Loaeza was a baby and she needed medical care, her mother could call her pediatrician in Mexico for free advice, and, if needed, to send medication across the border to Los Angeles.
As an immigrant without legal permission to be in the country, Dolores was not eligible for full Medicaid coverage. When she got older, her mother, Wendy Pech, would have to scrape together the money to pay for Dolores’ medical expenses out of pocket. “I took extra precautions to make sure Dolores didn’t get sick or injured because we couldn’t afford those bills,” she said through a translator last week.
Those precautions are no longer necessary. Last year, California extended full Medicaid benefits to child immigrants, no matter their immigration status, if their families otherwise meet the income thresholds for the joint federal-state health insurance program for the poor and disabled. Dolores, now 17, is enrolled.
Oregon just followed suit, joining the five other states plus Washington, D.C. that extend Medicaid health benefits to children living in the country illegally. Immigration advocates welcomed the news, but with the Trump administration cracking down on illegal immigration, they don’t expect to see similar laws enacted in other states in the near future.
“When it comes to covering kids here illegally, there aren’t that many more states that are going to join that camp and a fair number of states that are definitely in the other camp,” said Randy Capps, research director of the Migration Policy Institute, a Washington think tank that studies migration in the United States and abroad.
Still, advocates regard the victory in Oregon and elsewhere as significant, certainly for the estimated 15,000 immigrant children in Oregon who are expected to become eligible for health care under the new law.
The financial commitment for the state in enacting the law is considerable because it will not come with the federal Medicaid matching funds available to legal residents. Oregon must pick up the entire tab, which is estimated to be more than $36 million for the first two years and $55 million for every two years after that. Oregon officials say that because there is no federal match, the children will not technically be Medicaid beneficiaries. But the program will be administered by the state Medicaid agency and the benefits will be the same.