Undocumented California youth can get health care, but many don’t know it
LOS ANGELES — A California-wide study on health care access conducted by undocumented immigrant youth for their peers shows real-life barriers and challenges that undocumented people in the US face in trying to get access to health care coverage.
The report, “Undocumented and Uninsured,” recently released by the University of California, Los Angeles’ Dream Resource Center (DRC) revealed that many undocumented youth do not get needed medical attention because they cannot afford to buy insurance or they do not want to reveal their undocumented status. Many young immigrants, however, do not realize that they have the lawful right to receive medical care.
Since January 2014, California recipients of the 2012 Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, who meet certain income requirements, are eligible to enroll in Medi-Cal, California’s health insurance and medical assistance program that serves individuals and families with incomes below 138 percent of the federal poverty level.
However, many immigrants who qualify for these benefits do not realize it, or don’t know how to apply—resulting in a low turnout, especially among Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders.
In partnership with The California Endowment, the DRC’s “Your Health Matters: Enrolling in Medi-Cal as a California DACA Recipient” report is a comprehensive, step-by-step guide to Medi-Cal eligibility and enrollment.
It covers all of the basics of applying for Medi-Cal, taking the confusing language of health care coverage and making it easier for people to understand.
It breaks down each step of the process, from gathering documents to applying online to using the healthcare benefits, and makes everything look less daunting.
The Dream Resource Center (DRC), through the UCLA Center for Labor Research and Education, aims to promote the education and leadership of immigrant youth nationwide. Since its founding, the center has emerged as a national source for innovative research, education and policy on immigration issues.
In light of administrative relief and the debates on Obamacare, the DRC’s current focus is on health care—most importantly, getting everyone access to coverage, regardless of their status.
The California Immigrant Policy Center and Educators for Fair Consideration organization also released “Take Control of Your Health,” a guide that addresses frequently asked questions that often arise for low-income DACA recipients navigating the Medi-Cal process often for the first time.
“Many DACA recipients are being unfairly denied Medi-Cal coverage, are fearful or hesitant when enrolling into Medi-Cal, or don’t know that they may qualify,” said Carlos Juarez, a DACA recipient and Medi-Cal Enrollment Counselor from UMMA Community Clinic in South Los Angeles, who helped put together the report.
There is a lack of knowledge among both immigrants and enrollees about the program, Juarez said.
People are being unlawfully denied Medi-Cal because enrollment counselors are also told the wrong information without understanding that DACA recipients do qualify.
A lot of the confusion and barriers stem from inconsistency between the federal and state laws, providing misleading information to both counselors and patients.
“Everyone is entitled to receiving healthcare,” Seth Ronquillo, the communications coordinator at the Dream Resource Center, also commented. “There are so many stories of immigrants who have just had to wait out their sickness, either because they are too afraid to get help or they simply cannot afford it.”
Ronquillo, a DACA recipient whose family immigrated from the Philippines, has been involved with the DRC since participating in the Dream Summer Internship program in 2011 as well as ASPIRE – Los Angeles.
An outspoken activist and recent UCLA graduate in film and linguistics, Ronquillo believes it is important for people like him to feel safe, welcomed, and not alone. In 2014, he released a short documentary titled “Us,” which highlights his own family’s immigration story, depicting the intimate and very real narrative of the life of an undocumented immigrant.
“History has proven that being involved and active has paved the way for future leaders to make lasting change and be empowered, regardless of their race or color or status,” he said.
“Undocumented and Uninsured” is the first study about and by immigrant youth, from interns to people who have been involved with the immigrant rights movement for years.
Researchers surveyed over 500 immigrant young people between ages 18 and 32 throughout California, including undocumented youth, students, and DACA grantees (known as “DAcAmented” immigrants).
The five-part report highlights important issues that undocumented immigrants face regarding health care; such as the lack of knowledge, constantly living in fear, and having to “suck up” their pain because they do not have access to health insurance—a practice known as “Band-Aid Care.”
According to the study, 74 percent of immigrant youth report that they have received basic health care from cheaper public safety-net programs, such as emergency Medi-Cal, public hospitals and county health clinics.
While these services provide some pain relief, they are often understaffed, underfunded, overcrowded and unable to meet patients’ needs. In the absence of formal care, many youth have been forced to pull resources together and find their own ways to care for one another, a dangerous practice of delaying crucial formal care.
One of the unique aspects of the new reports are the focus on people affected by this serious issue are also the ones doing the research themselves, as a way to educate and empower their own community.
“These reports took extensive time and research tailored to the audience they were written for,” said Nidia De Leon, a former Dream Summer intern and Covered California enrollment counselor, and one of the authors of the Your Health Matters report. “People are living in fear of their status being revealed—we are here to tell them not to be afraid, and to know their rights.”
“These reports have opened up a dialogue about such an important issue, allowing us to develop different strategies, and making people aware of the lack of access to institutionalized health care,” Juarez added. “People should know that there are options, ways for them to access health insurance through a safety net, without having to worry.”
All of the research, the first two reports, and a list of resources and ways to get involved are available on the Undocumented and Uninsured website, www.undocumentedanduninsured.org.