New California policy protects healthcare benefits for young immigrants

Protesters stand in front of a building holding signs
Supporters of expanding California’s government-funded healthcare benefits to immigrants gather at the Capitol on May 20, 2019, in Sacramento.
(Rich Pedroncelli / Associated Press)

About 40,000 low-income adults living in the country illegally won’t lose their government-funded health insurance over the next year under a new policy announced Monday by California Gov. Gavin Newsom’s administration.

California already pays for the healthcare expenses of low-income adults 25 and younger, regardless of their immigration status. A new law scheduled to take effect in January 2024 would extend those benefits to cover all adults who, but for their immigration status, would qualify for the state’s Medicaid program, known as Medi-Cal.

But between now and when that new law takes effect in 2024, about 40,000 young adults who already have Medi-Cal face losing their benefits because they will be older than 25. On Monday, the state Department of Health Care Services announced it would continue to cover those young adults through the end of 2023 to make sure they won’t lose their benefits.

“Providing continuous coverage means that tens of thousands of young Californians won’t face a disruptions in care, keeping them covered and healthier as a result,” said Jose Torres Casillas, policy and legislative advocate for Health Access California, a consumer healthcare advocacy group. “California is again leading the way in making our healthcare system work better for all communities, regardless of income, age or immigration status.”


Nationwide, about 22.1 million people were living in the country illegally in 2020, or about 7% of the population, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation, a healthcare nonprofit. These people are not eligible for most federal public benefit programs, even though many have jobs and pay taxes.

Some states, including California, have used their own money to cover the healthcare expenses of this group. Eighteen states provide prenatal care to people regardless of their immigration status, while five states and the District of Columbia cover all children from low-income families regardless of their immigration status. California and Illinois recently made older adult immigrants eligible for their Medicaid programs.

Governor has strong lead for reelection, even though voters see the state on the wrong track.

Aug. 23, 2022

California was the first state to pay for the healthcare of some adults living in the country illegally when state lawmakers voted in 2019 to make people 25 and younger eligible for Medi-Cal regardless of their immigration status.

That policy took effect in 2020, just as the COVID-19 pandemic started. The federal government declared a public health emergency, preserving benefits for all Medi-Cal enrollees. That’s why many young immigrants have been able to stay on Medi-Cal even though they are now older than 25 and technically no longer eligible.

The federal public health emergency is expected to end soon. When it does, all of those young adults who are now older than 25 will lose their benefits when they come up for renewal. But the Newsom administration said it would delay those renewals until the end of 2023, giving time for the new law to take effect.

“Protecting these young adults — who currently have Medi-Cal — from losing coverage, only to become eligible again shortly thereafter, will prevent needless gaps in healthcare services and medication that people need,” said Connie Choi, policy director at the California Immigrant Policy Center.