#Health4AllKids: Finishing the Job of Getting Kids Covered in California

Children of Immigrants

By Mike Odeh

Children Now

Starting today, May 16, 2016, California begins to finish the job of ensuring that 100 percent of children in our state get enrolled in health coverage. Today is the day the Department of Health Care Services begins enrolling low-income children, regardless of their immigration status, into Medi-Cal under the landmark expansion authorized by Senate Bill 75, authored by State Sen. Ricardo Lara, D-Bell Gardens, and signed into law by Gov. Jerry Brown last fall.

California is not the first state to make the smart investment to extend health coverage to undocumented children (California joins Illinois, Massachusetts, New York, Washington, D.C., and Washington), but we are the largest. Revised state budget estimates released last Friday project that 185,000 children will enroll in the #Health4AllKids expansion of Medi-Cal in the coming fiscal year.

Because Medi-Cal is the cornerstone of California kids’ health care, it already covers over half of all California kids, and we know that kids with Medicaid have positive educational, health, and achievement outcomes into adulthood. So, it makes sense to expand children’s coverage through Medi-Cal. This is important because starting today, eligible undocumented children will be able to enroll in full-scope Medi-Cal coverage and receive the comprehensive benefit package that includes regular preventive and primary care, dental care, mental health services, and the relatively recent addition of behavioral health treatment (BHT) for children with autism.

Especially for a population that has for the most part only had limited access to emergency-only services (or restricted-scope Medi-Cal), we knew that there were bound to be many questions from local communities about the changes and a need for reliable, coordinated outreach and enrollment assistance. To that end, a broad coalition (including children’s, immigrant rights, health care, and other advocates) collaborated to develop and curate health4allkids.org – a collection of resources specifically about the expansion that includes basic information for families about how to enroll their children, enrollment events, and a free toolkit for community-based organizations and enrollment assisters that has even more detailed information, strategies, and expert presentations about the expansion to help communities enroll eligible children.

To put the #Health4AllKids expansion in context, though, over the past 15 years, California has made steady progress – primarily driven by Medicaid and CHIP – in covering uninsured children. Over that time period, there were also many state and local efforts to extend coverage to undocumented children that helped “soften the ground,” for example: campaign promises from former Gov. Schwarzenegger during a high-profile election in 2003; legislative efforts in 2006-07 that failed to materialize because of fiscal constraints; a narrowly defeated tobacco tax voter proposition in 2006 despite strong public opinion polling in support of health care for all children; the proliferation of innovative, county-based, local coverage programs through public-private partnerships; and the commitment and patience of our state’s advocacy and philanthropic communities towards health for all children.

This experience with children’s health coverage has coincided with a growing equitability in California policymaking (such as the 2013 law giving access to drivers licenses for all California residents regardless of immigration status), and ultimately laid the groundwork for the bold political leadership of Sen. Lara, himself the son of immigrants, who has elevated immigrant rights policies and is championing the effort to achieve #Health4All.

Through this historic expansion taking effect today, California is getting much closer to finishing the job of covering all kids without exception. However, we must keep the momentum going to ultimately ensure that all Californians have the dignity of health coverage and access to health care. As Sen. Lara said at a San Francisco press conference to kick-off his #Health4AllKids enrollment tour, we’re not done: “We’re going to be able to take care of our abuelitos and abuelitas, our aunts and uncles….” Yes we are! Cheers to #Health4AllKids, #Health4All, and a healthier California.

Mike Odeh is the Associate Director of Health Policy at Children Now. Children Now is the leading nonpartisan umbrella research, policy development and advocacy organization dedicated to promoting children’s health, education and well-being in California. Children Now also leads The Children’s Movement of California, a grassroots network of more than 1,500 business, education, parent, civil rights, faith, community-based and multiethnic organizations, as well as thousands of individuals, working together to make children a top priority in public policy. Learn more at www.childrennow.org.

A victory for children’s health in California! #Health4AllKids covers ALL Children >> http://bit.ly/1rPeTrf via @mikeyodeh @ChildrenNow
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