California May Let Undocumented Immigrants Buy Healthcare

| by Robert Fowler
An open enrollment event for Covered CaliforniaAn open enrollment event for Covered California

The California Legislature is considering legislation that would give undocumented immigrants a path to buying healthcare. The legislation would formally request that the federal government allow undocumented immigrants residing in the Sunshine state to purchase health insurance through the Covered California exchange.

The bill, proposed by Democratic state Sen. Ricardo Lara, would potentially allow up to 390,000 undocumented immigrants to purchase healthcare with their own money through the Affordable Care Act (ACA), the Los Angeles Times reports.

Currently, the ACA forbids anyone who cannot prove their citizenship to purchase health plans through state exchanges. Lara’s legislation, SB10, would ask that an exception be made for California, although illegal immigrants would still not qualify for subsidies.

"This proposal affirms our commitment to embrace and integrate our immigrant community, to lead where the federal government has failed and to acknowledge the hard work and sacrifice of a community that contributes billions of dollars to our GDP," Lara declared in a statement, according to the LA Times.

On April 26, SB10 passed in the California Assembly Health Committee and will now be up for vote in the Assembly Appropriations Committee, KCRA reports.

If the California Legislature approves of the legislation, it would then go to Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown. If the governor signs the bill into law, both the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the U.S. Department of Treasury would be given 225 days to decide whether or not to give California permission.

It will be incumbent upon California lawmakers to guarantee that allowing undocumented immigrants to purchase insurance plans through Covered California would not harm the overall coverage or affordability of exchanges in the state or add to federal costs.

Many immigrants with legal status but undocumented family members already have health coverage through Covered California.

Executive director Robin Hvidston of We the People Rising, a group against Lara’s bill, said allowing undocumented immigrants to purchase health coverage would send the wrong message.

“We oppose that [bill] because that encourages illegal immigration,” Hvidston said, according to the LA Times. “It sends a message to the world that if you come to our country you will be rewarded.”

After the Assembly Health Committee passed SB10, Hvidston called the decision “very disappointing, because there are so many American citizens that need help in our state, and our bills should be focused on our own suffering population of our own citizens — our foster children, our veterans, our homeless," KCRA notes.

According to Lara, the bill is common sense.

“There’s not rational reason, and frankly it’s absurd, to deny anybody the opportunity to buy insurance through our state exchange,” Lara said. “It’s discriminatory and doesn’t reflect our California values.”

A USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times poll released in March found that roughly two-thirds of Californians view illegal immigration as a major problem, The Washington Post reports.

However, over three-fourths also said undocumented immigrants should remain in their state, with 60 percent agreeing that they should have a pathway to citizenship.

Sources: KCRALos Angeles Times, The Washington Post / Photo Credit: Marcus Yam/Los Angeles Times

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