California May Be Expanding Healthcare to Undocumented Immigrants

Just as U.S. citizens now have access to health insurance through the federal Affordable Care Act (ACA), California is seeking to expand the same kind of coverage to undocumented immigrants. The idea is to move undocumented immigrants out of receiving health care predominately through emergency room and low-cost or free clinics.

When ACA passed in Washington, federal legislators barred coverage of undocumented immigrants. For states like California where undocumented immigrant rates tend to run high, rules around the program means approximately one million people in the state can’t access the healthcare program.  Beyond ACA is California’s Medicaid program, another program out of reach to undocumented immigrants because of its mix of federal and state funding.

In February, representatives in California’s state senate introduced a new bill to address the issue. Called the Health Care for All Act, the proposal seeks to utilize proven state resources as a means of offering health coverage to all who reside in the state.

Democratic State Sen. Ricardo Lara is the legislator behind the bill. The Health for All Act uses state funds to let undocumented immigrants access Medicaid, a health care program created for the poor. Simply put, passage of the bill would step up state funding to cover undocumented immigrants. While many undocumented immigrants meet income guidelines to access the Medicaid program, those who have higher incomes would have access to insurance exchanges that offer state-funded subsidies.

Given California’s track record on health care, the plan is likely doable. Since ACA implementation on Oct. 1 last year, Calif. has enrolled some 625,000 people in health plans across the state. Calif. also claims more than 1.2 million newly enrolled in the state’s Medicaid program.

“This is an issue that has been a concern at many clinics and non-profit hospitals and a whole host of other folks in the medical industry who feel that we’re going to have to be pro-active,” Lara said. “If we’re going to fully implement the ACA, the conversation has to include this vulnerable population.”

Health coverage for immigrants is in line with other state initiatives that reach out to the state’s undocumented immigrant population to bring them into the mainstream. Gov. Jerry Brown signed a bill in 2013 allowing undocumented immigrants to gain driver’s licenses. The state also already allows undocumented immigrants to receive state financial aid.

“We understand that ensuring that they are incorporated into our society allows them to contribute more to our economy,” Lara said.