Democratic Senator Ricardo Lara of California is making headlines this morning after proposing that illegal immigrants should have access to a state version of President Obama’s Affordable Care Act.
"Immigration status shouldn't bar individuals from health coverage, especially since their taxes contribute to the growth of our economy," said Lara.
Currently, the state health insurance program Covered California does not allow for illegal immigrants to be covered, but many of the 2.6 million undocumented immigrants in the state are already covered by their employers through privatized plans. Lawmakers are currently trying to sort out the details of the proposal and say one option would be to create a program separate from Covered California that would pay for health insurance through state funds instead of federal funds.
"By the end of this year, Covered California will be entirely self-sustaining anyway," said Health Access executive director Anthony Wright, who is working with Lara on the proposal. "It will not be federally funded, it will not be state funded. It's funded by a small fee on each policy sold."
Wright says that this could be a chance for California to pave the way in the fight for immigration reform and rights for undocumented immigrants.
"There is precedent for California to be a leader,” said Wright. “There is precedent for California to piggyback on federal programs but take an extra step to expand to additional folks."
There are a number of different options on the table that could expand health insurance to illegal immigrants in California, and Lara, along with a team devoted to the proposal, is currently figuring it all out.
The support is not unanimous, however. Republican Assemblyman and gubernatorial candidate Tim Donnelly says that Lara’s proposal is misguided and could do economic harm.
"California cannot afford to create another incentive to attract people to come to our state illegally in pursuit of taxpayer-subsidized benefits," said Donnelly. "It's shameful that … Lara would trade on the plight of those who are ineligible."
Still, Lara and his team are moving forward, and it should be interesting to see where the future of government-funded healthcare for illegal immigrants goes in the coming months.