MADERA, Calif. – Rosa Cortez wasn’t bothered so much that her teeth were crooked. What bothered the 17-year-old more was that her gums bled when she chewed on her food.
Cortez put up with it because her mother, Araceli, couldn’t afford to get her checked by a dentist outside the Kaiser Permanente Child Health Plan in which Rosa had been enrolled at $180-a-year. That plan covered only dental cleaning.
Araceli, a farm worker and a single mom in this largely rural agricultural community, has been out of work since she had eye surgery a few months ago, and money was tight in her household.
Luckily for Rosa, she was able to transition from her Kaiser plan to full-scope Medi-Cal a month ago, under the Health Care for all Kids law that launched in May. With her new Medi-Cal card in hand, she saw a dentist. Araceli said her daughter is already feeling better.
Rosa’s insurance plan has also allowed her to see a primary care doctor to get her frequent migraines checked.
“She has missed so many school days because of that,” said Araceli in Spanish through an interpreter as she waited in line to enter a recent free health fair held here by the Madera Coalition for Community Justice. Araceli was hoping to get a basic medical checkup by county health workers who were working a booth.
But not every parent who had come to the health fair said they knew all the benefits that came with full-scope Medi-Cal. Very few knew that the plan allowed them to access dental, mental and vision care.
Regardless of their immigration status, the 6-month-old Health for All Kids law allows financially eligible children under 19 years of age to enroll in full-scope Medi-Cal. Services include hospitalization, prevention and wellness treatments, chronic disease management and pediatric care. Some 250,000 could be covered under this law, which will cost the state around $132 million annually.
According to Steve Duckworth, program manager with the Madera County Department of Social Services, all county children who had restricted Medi-Cal in the county prior to May of this year have transitioned to full-scope Medi-Cal.
Reyna Villalobos, director of community programs at Clinica Sierra Vista, a federally qualified health clinic in Fresno, Calif., which partnered with New America Media at the event, told parents in Spanish that their children could access dental and mental care through full-scope Medi-Cal with little or no cost. It was clear that many of them were hearing about this for the first time.
“I am happy,” said Amanda Rodriguez in Spanish through an interpreter, as she walked away from the booth with some flyers in hand. “My daughter needs to see a dentist. She has so many cavities.”
Villalobos pointed out that enrolling kids in Medi-Cal was one thing, but parents need to know all the benefits contained in it, she said.
Rosalva Vasquez, 17, from Mexico, knew about the program’s dental benefits. She didn’t waste time in taking advantage of the transition to full-scope Medi-Cal. The part-time senior at Madera County Independent Academy said she was finally able to get prescription glasses. Now she is waiting to get a physical done.
“I’m so thankful for having the coverage,” she said. “I am planning to graduate this year.”
Some visitors were too fearful to share their stories or even seek health care under the new law.
“A lot of people are afraid of this gentleman Mr. Trump,” said Coalition Executive Director Lourdes Herrera. “He says so many things. They don’t know what will happen to them in the future.”
Over and over again, Villalobos tried to dispel those fears by reassuring them that whatever information they provided on their children’s Medi-Cal application forms would not be shared with immigration officials, nor would it impact their own immigration status in the future.