Undocumented Seniors Deserve Healthcare, Too

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Put this one under small victories. California will expand Medicaid to undocumented adults between the ages of 19 and 25, making all undocumented adults under 26 eligible for Medicaid—if, like California citizens, they make under $17,236, or a bit more than half of what most one-bedroom apartments in Oakland cost to rent for a year.


In 2016, undocumented children 18 and under were made eligible for Medi-Cal, the state Medicaid program, which expanded coverage by approximately 250,000 people. This latest deal will expand coverage further by about 90,000 adults. If California keeps expanding the eligibility age for the undocumented at a rate of five more years every three years, it’ll take just 24 years for them to reach the age of 65. Imagine!

Immigrants rights’ advocates were “disappointed” that the deal excluded seniors, according to the Los Angeles Times, with Cynthia Buiza of the California Immigrant Policy Center telling the paper: “The exclusion of undocumented elders from the same healthcare their U.S. citizen neighbors are eligible for means beloved community members will suffer and die from treatable conditions.”

This is absolutely true. Every good reason why we have Medicare to cover seniors—because getting older means needing more and more expensive care, and because a rich society should not let older people die early in poverty—applies to the undocumented, too.

That’s not to mention that people who are uninsured will end up at the emergency rooms of the only hospitals that have to treat them, often of diseases that could have been prevented had they been able to access primary care, leaving those hospitals in debt for their care. Leaving a significant population of elderly people uninsured is just about the dumbest thing you could do, health costs-wise. And not that this should matter either way, but undocumented immigrants pay the taxes that fund these programs, too.

Just last week, a Kaiser Family Foundation survey found that 29 percent of low-income Californians reported having trouble paying medical bills, with 70 percent of those people reporting they had cut spending on household items and 67 percent saying they had used most or all of their savings to cover the bills. Fifty-five percent said they or a family member had delayed care due to cost.

It is good that low-income undocumented adults will have a few more years of being able to access the lifeline of Medi-Cal. At the same time, it’s appalling that such a small step towards the miles-off goal of adequate healthcare in this country—let alone in the richest and one of the supposedly most progressive states in America—is all we’re getting right now.

Splinter politics writer. libby.watson@splinternews.com