Thousands of Young Immigrants Eligible for Insurance But Hurdles Remain

Many young immigrants in California don’t realize that they may be eligible for health coverage, even if they don’t have legal status.

But even if they are aware, there’s another hurdle — the cost of the application. As Natalie Jones reports, the fee to apply for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival status is $465 per person.

For a family with several children, that adds up fast. The fee, as well as the fact that the application is detailed and takes four to six months to process on average, may be keeping thousands of uninsured teens and young adults from getting health coverage.

People who are in the country illegally are not eligible for insurance under the Affordable Care Act. But some states, including California, are funding health coverage for those with deferred-action status.

Immigrants who moved to the U.S. as children and have attended school or served in the military here may be eligible for the two-year status. Under most circumstances, applicants must be at least 15, and have been under 31 on June 15, 2012.

As many as 125,000 young immigrants in California could be eligible for the status and receive health coverage under Medi-Cal, the state’s low-income health program, according to a February report by University of California researchers.

Yet those who are granted deferred-action status may not seek health care, according to another report by UC researchers released last month.

The March report found that 37 percent of those who qualified for deferred-action status didn’t have a usual source of health care. By comparison, 29 percent of U.S.-born California residents in the same age range, 15 to 30, didn’t have a regular health-care access.

Researchers noted that those eligible for deferred-action status believed the cost of health-care was prohibitive and weren’t aware that they could apply for low-cost programs.

Jones quotes Maria Camacho, a 19-year-old immigrant living in Sacramento, who expressed those concerns.

“My mom always tells us, ‘You have to take care of yourself, because we can’t afford to go to doctors,’ or, ‘We can’t afford to get sick,’” Camacho said.

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