Democrats seek more health care for California’s undocumented
California’s Democratic legislators want to extend health benefits to undocumented young adults, the continuation of an effort that ushered children without legal status into the state’s publicly funded health care system last year.
It is unclear when the program would start or how much the state would spend if the proposal, which could cost up to $85 million a year, is approved by Gov. Jerry Brown. Lawmakers are working out details ahead of their June 15 deadline for passing a new budget.
The plan would provide full-scope coverage for 19-to-26-year-olds who qualify for Medi-Cal, the state’s name for Medicaid. Currently, the federally funded program covers only emergency visits and prenatal care for undocumented residents. Under the proposal, revenue from taxes on tobacco products would absorb expenses for all other coverage.
Democratic Sen. Ricardo Lara of Bell Gardens has been one of the strongest voices for expanded care. In 2015, he pushed for coverage for all adults. That proposal was changed to admit only undocumented children; it took effect last year. This year, he said in a recent video message to supporters, “We are going to make the final push to ensure we capture our young adults.”
Supporters’ ultimate goal is to include all undocumented adults, said Anthony Wright, executive director of Health Access California, a health care consumer group backing the proposal.
“We believe without coverage people are sicker, die younger and are one emergency away from financial ruin. It has consequences for their families and their communities—both health and financial consequences,” he said.
The plan would mean that undocumented children currently in the program would not age out at 19, putting low-income undocumented immigrants on a par with those allowed to stay on their parents’ insurance under Obamacare until they are 26.
Republican Sen. John Moorlach of Costa Mesa opposes an extension of benefits. One reason is financial. California doesn’t have “a balance sheet we can brag about,” he said, citing the state’s debt load, among other reasons.
Secondly, he disapproves of illegal immigration. Moorlach migrated to the U.S. legally as a child with his family from the Netherlands.
“I’m kind of offended that we feel an obligation to pay for expenses for those who did not come through the front door,” he said. “I certainly have compassion and want to help people in need, but I’m having difficulty, as a legal immigrant, because we are already in such bad fiscal shape.”
Advocates argue that undocumented immigrants help propel California’s economy with their labor and the taxes they pay, and that they cost the state money when they don’t work because of illness or when they end up in the emergency room.