SACRAMENTO, Calif. (Reuters) - About half of California's undocumented immigrants are poor enough to qualify for Medi-Cal, the state's insurance program for its poorest residents, according to a new report.
The study by the Public Policy Institute of California comes amid ongoing discussion in the most populous U.S. state over how to pay for healthcare for the estimated 60 percent of undocumented immigrants who do not have insurance.
The report estimates that as many as three million undocumented immigrants live in California, of whom 51 percent are impoverished.
A new law set to take effect next year that would allow the children of some undocumented immigrants to apply for Medi-Cal if their families make less annually than $33,500, or 138 percent of the federal poverty level of about $24,000 per year for a family of four.
But the state has yet to expand access to the federal Affordable Care Act, commonly referred to as Obamacare, or Medi-Cal itself to undocumented adults.
As a result, the San Francisco-based nonpartisan policy research organization said that those who become ill wait until they are very sick and then go to emergency rooms, so that it costs more to treat them than it would if they had received regular preventive care.
"The undocumented rely largely on safety net service providers when they need it. Community clinics and hospital emergency departments are their main access to organized healthcare," said Shannon McConville, a co-author of the report.
Most impoverished undocumented families live in Southern California and the San Joaquin Valley, the report said.
Readily available health services have been connected to lower mortality rates, better employment results and better education effects, the organization said.
(Reporting by Kayla Nick-Kearney; editing by Sharon Bernstein, G Crosse)