Ten thousand people are about to lose their health insurance, despite being approved for Covered California, the statewide health care program. But those people, the federal government argues, aren’t Californians. And immigrants rights groups are surprisingly quiet about it.
This week, Covered California will send “pre-termination notices” to 10,000 individuals who they say haven’t adequately proven that they are legal California residents, the Los Angeles Times reports. In order to verify residency, an applicant must provide proof of eligibility, such as a social security card or permanent resident documents. But not everyone has submitted the required paperwork. Last month, Covered California warned 148,000 people comprising 98,000 families that they were at risk of losing their insurance soon. This week, that clock is ticking down. The cancellation notices may arrive any day. But you wouldn’t know that if you visited pro-immigration websites today.
A trip to popular sites like the Immigration Advocates Network, the American Civil Liberties Union, and Reform Immigration for America today won’t turn up any pitchfork-wielding about the thousands who may go without health care, but instead the usual stories about border issues and harsh immigration laws. In fact, most organizations didn’t seem too upset by the news.
Joseph Villela, Policy Director for the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles, told me not everyone shouldn’t panic. Describing the amount of people who are losing their insurance, he said, “the numbers are very small.” In fact, he sees the data as good news. “We have more than 2.3 million folks who are legal immigrants,” he told me, “We’re encouraged by the numbers because they are low in comparison.” Encouraged?
And yet, he’s right. Over 3 million people signed up for Covered California since registration began last November. Of those 3 million, less than one percent of them had to follow up with more documentation of their citizenship or residency, and less than half of those people are still unverified. In the final tally, about a third of a percent of those insured may lose their insurance. 99.65% are fine. By any metric, those are pretty good odds, but especially for the state with the largest immigrant population in the country, since the rules about which immigrants qualify for coverage are a bit complex. And that’s Villela’s biggest concern.
“There might be some folks who may have misread the information or thought that they qualified but they don’t qualify,” he said, adding that his organization urges Covered California to be flexible and understanding as legal immigrants clarify their unique situations. Some might need help or patience as they collect their documentations; others might need forgiveness for simply not understanding that they didn’t qualify.
As the law stands now, anyone who doesn’t qualify for the ACA but has been getting benefits could be charged back fees. For a low-income earner, that can be a rather terrifying possibility. When I asked Villela about the penalties, he paused.
“I hope they don’t do anything that punitive,” he said, adding that studies show that recent immigrants are actually healthier than natives, so pushing them out of the healthcare system or punishing them for participating is a bad move for everyone. And what about those immigrants who are, in fact, undocumented?
“A disease does not discriminate based on citizenship,” Villela said. “And so it’s in the best interests for our state to really have a system that provides preventive care to all its residents, because then in the long-term, that’s going to save us money.”
That point might strike a chord with lawmakers one day, but for now, Covered California is just trying to help as many people as possible keep their insurance.
I called the line myself, following the dialing instructions for someone who is having verification problems. I expected to wait about an hour to talk to a human.
It took eighty seconds.
This story was originally published in NeonTommy.