California May Allow Adult Undocumented Immigrants to Enroll in Health Care Coverage

In “one of the most daring examples yet of blue-state Democrats thumbing their nose” at Donald Trump’s anti-immigrant agenda, California could be set on extending full health care coverage to undocumented immigrant adults in the state. “Just because we have bad immigration policy,” said Micah Weinberg, president of the Bay Area Council Economic Institute, “does not mean we shouldn’t have good health policy. And truly universal coverage is good health policy”:

“California has never waited for the federal government, or for a political climate, to be able to take leadership on a whole host of issues,” state Sen. Ricardo Lara, author of the state Senate bill to extend Medicaid coverage to all adults, told POLITICO.

But at a time when Trump is already attempting to re-energize state Republican voters — he met with California conservatives at the White House last week to strategize against the state’s sanctuary policies — the initiative might be risky. For starters, it will be costly: The annual price tag to expand Medicaid benefits to poor adult immigrants without legal status is projected at $3 billion annually. Some also worry that extending health coverage could make California a magnet for undocumented immigrants from other states.

But undocumented immigrants are also taxpayers, and already contribute to programs they have no access to. According to the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy, they pay a combined $3 billion in local and state taxes, and their immigration status doesn’t erase their humanity, nor does it erase their need for regular care versus much more expensive alternatives. Lara, himself the son of undocumented Mexican immigrants, “contended the state is already paying for health care for the undocumented in the most expensive way possible, through hospital emergency rooms”:

“We are trying to address the fact that, whether you like it or not,” he said, “our undocumented community needs the care, and we are paying for it anyway.”

According to Politico, Gov. Jerry Brown “has not yet committed to the plan.” In 2015, Brown signed another bill, also authored by Lara, permitting undocumented children and young adults to enroll in Medi-Cal. “The contributions of California’s undocumented community members and taxpayers have grown and sustained our state,” tweeted NetGen America, “yet they’re locked out of health coverage. Honor all Californians by prioritizing #Health4All.”

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