To learn more about the young adult expansion of Medi-Cal, including how to find out if you are eligible for these benefits, click here.
The COVID-19 pandemic has changed, well, everything. That includes how community organizations reach residents to connect them with resources — a challenge many California groups have faced after the passage of Senate Bill 104 in 2019.
SB 104 is responsible for the young adult expansion of Medi-Cal, which has opened up full scope Medi-Cal coverage to undocumented California youth who are between 19 and 25 years old; many of whom may have previously been eligible for restricted scope Medi-Cal, which only covers emergency services. However, the COVID-19 pandemic has made it harder for community organizations throughout the state to reach and educate communities about these benefits.
“… In person, you know, you bring your paperwork and you’re able to help whichever way you can. But trying to describe situations or papers or pay stubs over the phone can be difficult,” said Deyanira Cuellar, an immigrant justice fellow with Central Valley Immigrant Integration Collaborative. “Trying to get community members that already lack technology skills to learn how to scan documents or sometimes even taking a picture on your phone and sending it can be difficult.”
Tech literacy issues, lack of high-speed internet, and difficulty obtaining pay stubs due to the nature of many undocumented residents’ jobs are just some of the issues impacting young adult expansion outreach and enrollment assistance, according to community organizations throughout the state.
CVIIC is one of the numerous organizations focused on outreach and education about the young adult expansion. This work includes engaging with youth who aren’t on Medi-Cal and those who had full scope Medi-Cal due to Senate Bill 75, a bill which expanded full scope coverage to include undocumented youth under 19 years old.
Yesenia Beas, an organizer with the Central Coast Alliance United for a Sustainable Economy, said her team has continued to use class presentations and connections with community leaders to share information about these benefits. Though the pandemic has impacted how effective this can be.
“This year around with Zoom, we had a lot more professors say no that usually would say yes to our classroom presentations,” Beas said. “Most of the professors were just like, ‘Oh, you know, we’re so booked. We’re trying to play catch up,’ which was totally understandable.”
In Cuellar’s experience working in the Central Valley, it’s been easier to reach people just aging into the expansion’s age range, as they’ve had full scope Medi-Cal due to SB 75. Cuellar said it’s also helped that they and their parents have been more familiar with what it’s like to have full scope coverage, and thus are more aware of these benefits.
“I think the age population that’s been harder to reach are those that are already between like 21 to 24, that maybe haven’t had Medi-Cal for a few years,” Cuellar said. “They don’t know that they’re eligible.”
Cuellar also highlighted that many young people appear to not see a need for utilizing these benefits until it’s an emergency, which can be a barrier to getting them enrolled or using their recently expanded coverage. It’s a trend other outreach workers across the state have also noticed.
“That’s a population… the young adults, who still have all that energy. And that’s great, you know?,” said Lupe Gonzalez, project coordinator with the Los Angeles-based Vision y Compromiso. “But at the end of the day, where do they go when something happens and they aren’t enrolled in Medi-Cal or private insurance? A clinic. It’s great that it’s available, but if you don’t have to pay for the cost then that’s even better.”
According to California Health and Human Services, a total of 83,031 youth throughout the state have been transitioned into full scope Medi-Cal. As of November 2020, 1,074 youth remain in restricted scope coverage. In a December 2019, the state’s Department of Health Care Services estimated that about 90,000 California youth would be eligible and enrolled within the first year of the expansion. About 75% of those youth were already receiving restricted scope benefits.
Outreach workers have noticed that the expansion has been a positive for youth who have utilized their full scope benefits, with some enrollees reporting back getting exams and dental work they’d put off or not received in some time.
However, workers like Cuellar have noticed that other undocumented residents, such as seniors, are still in need of similar coverage. Cuellar mentioned that, after media interviews about the expansion, CVIIC has received calls from adults as old as in their 50s seeking resources that will help them.
“I think there’s always like that hope that maybe there’s a different program for them,” Cuellar said.
Health4All Seniors, which would allow about 27,000 undocumented seniors to enroll in full scope Medi-Cal, was initially in the state budget for 2020 but rescinded due to budget deficits caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Organizations throughout the state are currently advocating to include this policy in the next year’s state budget. Follow the California Immigrant Policy Center for updates on the Health4All campaign.
This article was corrected on Apr. 1 to accurately depict the number of youth enrolled into full scope Medi-Cal via SB 104 young adult expansion.