The California Legislature has passed the state budget that included funding to expand MediCal eligibility to undocumented residents under the age of 26. The expansion is projected to aid 90,000 young adults who are living at the brink of poverty, earning less than $16,395 per year in the state.
Though a step in the right direction, passing this measure in place of other, more expansive bills introduced this session means that many undocumented immigrants who desperately need MediCal insurance will miss out. And that will mean further suffering for some of our state’s most vulnerable people.
Based on my interviews with over 50 undocumented immigrants in the Bay Area, I’ve heard troubling story after story of people who suffer on a daily basis because they lack health insurance. Their harrowing tales are eye-opening and disturbing.
Take Manuel, for example, a 57-year-old day laborer who immigrated to Oakland from Mexico more than 20 years ago. Manuel migrated to the United States in his early 20s to help provide for his new family.
For two decades, Manuel has stood on street corners in Oakland waiting for prospective employers who need help with construction, landscaping or painting projects. He has shared apartments with several men, sleeping on floors and even closets, so he can afford rent and, in the early years, support his loved ones in Mexico.
No longer a young man, Manuel lives with chronic pain. About five years ago, Manuel had a work accident that left him with a broken arm that never fully healed. To this day, he cannot lift his arm past his shoulder, a heavy burden for him as a day laborer. Eating, too, has become more difficult lately because he has severe, unrelenting pain in his right molar.
Manuel is not alone. There were others who suffered the physical aftershocks of work accidents, did not have a health care provider to go to when they became sick or injured, or who endured chronic pain to avoid the cost of seeing a doctor. Most also did not know where to go for mental health services.
All of the people I spoke to were over the age of 26, which makes them ineligible for health benefits, even under the new MediCal expansion. They suffer from deteriorating health conditions that negatively impact them as workers, parents, family members, and friends.
Undocumented workers comprise 9 percent of California’s labor force and contribute $3 billion in state and local taxes each year. Despite all they contribute, 44 percent of undocumented adults have no usual source of care. Of those who are low-income, 90 percent of them do not have health insurance.
While the state’s budget helps young undocumented immigrants, it falls far short of Gov. Newsom’s “California for all” campaign. After all, the majority of the state’s undocumented population is not included.
Dani Carrillo is a research specialist at the University of California, San Francisco, and has a Ph.D. in sociology from the University of California, Berkeley. She wrote this commentary for CALmatters, a nonpartisan news venture focused on the state’s policies and politics.