Tens of thousands of children in the U.S. illegally are enrolled in Medi-Cal, but fear of deportation by the Trump administration has many of their parents considering pulling them out of the program.
Since Trump's election last November, parents have been calling the L.A. Care Health Plan to request that their kids be withdrawn from Medi-Cal, according to agency officials, who say they're counseling those who call to keep their kids in the program.
A state law that took effect last May makes it possible for children under 19 to access Medi-Cal, regardless of their immigration status. There are more than 66,000 unauthorized immigrant children enrolled in Medi-Cal in L.A. County; about one-third joined through L.A. Care, which describes itself as the nation's largest publicly-operated health plan.
L.A. Care CEO John Baackes says his staff is explaining to concerned parents that Medi-Cal has already shared their children's information with the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, but that under current policy, that agency can't share information with Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
Call center staff are telling people, "if you haven't filled out the [application] and you're that concerned about it, don't fill out the [application]," says Baackes. "But on the other hand, if you filled out the [application] don't withdraw it because it's too late."
Although the CMS is not allowed to share information with ICE, "we think this is a terrible position to put people in," he says. "To make a choice between protecting their confidentiality and getting their kids health care – nobody should be in that position."
If the federal government changes its policy and gives ICE access to Medi-Cal enrollees' information, "there's probably precious little we can do about it," Baackes says.
Worried parents calling L.A. Care seem to be heeding the agency's advice, he says, noting that there has not been a dip in enrollment.
There has been a significant decrease in the number of families enrolling and re-enrolling unauthorized immigrant kids in Medi-Cal in the 16 L.A. clinics run by Eisner Health, according to Susie Ramirez, a supervisor in the firm's patient relations department.
About 80 to 90 kids enrolled in the program each month from May, when the law was implemented, through the end of November, she says. Since December, that dropped to 35 or 40 a month, adds Ramirez. About 120 kids re-enrolled each month through November, and that number has dropped to about 80 a month since December, she says.
Ramirez is concerned that fear of deportation will prevent patients from getting needed health care.
"If they're hesitant about continuing their care with us and continuing accessing these programs, then that means that's going to affect their health and their continuity of obtaining care," she says.