Healthcare for undocumented advances in California Senate
OAKLAND, California — In a 5-2 vote state Senator Ricardo Lara’s (D-Bell Gardens) Senate Bill 4 to expand healthcare access to California’s undocumented population recently passed the Senate Appropriations Committee.
Dubbed the Health for All Bill, SB4 is the first proposal of its kind introduced in the country and had been stalled last year in the same appropriations committee.
“Today’s vote represents a historic step forward on the path towards achieving health for all,” Lara announced. “The amendments reflect two things: what we can realistically achieve now, and what we hope to achieve in the near future. Ensuring that everyone in California is healthy is what’s right for our state.”
The Senate Appropriations Committee amended the bill to address cost concerns, but it preserved the bill’s intent to provide access to healthcare for every person in California, regardless of immigration status.
Joining Lara in welcoming the committee’s approval, Executive Director Anthony Wright of Health Access Foundation and Health Access California, added more details in his reaction.
“The Senate Budget proposal currently has $40 million budgeted for this purpose. The bill also allows undocumented folks to buy coverage in Covered California—from which they are now excluded under the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Further, this bill is now a fraction of the cost of SB1005, most notably since it doesn’t include offering subsidies in Covered California,” Wright explained.
Amendment addressed the Senate’s most important hesitation about the measure last year, which California Governor Jerry Brown shared – where to get enough money to sustain the program.
The federal Affordable Care Act (ACA) specifically excludes undocumented immigrants from insurance coverage, so over a million undocumented California residents lack access to affordable coverage.
“Access to preventive care keeps people healthier by providing regular check-ups and screenings, and early diagnosis of health problems ensures those problems can be treated before they become overly expensive,” Lara explained.
“By ensuring everyone has access to health care, we can improve the health of our entire community, limit the overcrowding of emergency rooms, and reduce the costs of healthcare in California,” he added.
In the amended version, SB 4 three important goals were reached: allowing undocumented Californians to buy health insurance with their own money through covered California by seeking a waiver; allowing all kids 19 and under to enroll in Medi-Cal, regardless of immigration status; and expanding access to adults 19 and over, regardless of immigration status, by establishing a capped enrollment program through Medi-Cal that will provide services as funding is made available.
Funded equally by the State and federal governments, Medi-Cal is California’s public health insurance program that provides needed healthcare services for low-income individuals, while Covered California is a new health insurance exchange where individuals, families and small businesses can find affordable health insurance.
“Providing quality health care to hundreds of thousands of kids in California will be transformational to thousands of families. It’ll be historic,” Lara believes. “Ensuring every kid in California grows up healthy with an opportunity to thrive and succeed is the right thing to do.”
Undocumented immigrants comprise roughly 10 percent of the state’s workforce, contributing $130 billion annually to the state’s gross domestic product and generated $2.2 billion in state taxes in 2010 alone.
Lone Filipino American State Assembly member Rob Bonta said last year, “Estimates show that we would spend in the range of $350-460 million if we provided health coverage as well as wellness and preventative care. If you are diagnosed, treated and managed early enough (then you) avoid the costly trips to the hospital.”
Before the bill was put to a vote in the Senate Appropriations Committee, both Lara and Wright were speakers in a telebriefing organized by the New America Media (NAM) and moderated by one of its officers, Odette Keeley. Both speakers sounded optimistic that the bill would have better and smoother sailing this time around.
Lara reported on the latest developments and his positive outlook for the bill. Wright confirmed that the bill has gained “momentum,” which is further reinforced by the appropriations committee approval.
“We are now further along the process than last year, where the bill stalled in Appropriations Committee. Now we passed Appropriations Committee and are on the Senate floor next week,” Lara reported.
Lara is also optimistic that President Obama’s Executive Action to expand the deferred action program will potentially reduce the undocumented uninsured population in California, which will, in turn, have a significant impact on the costs of SB 4.
“An estimated 1.25 million undocumented immigrants in California may be eligible for work authorization and relief from deportation under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program and the new Deferred Action for Parents of U.S. Citizens and Lawful Permanent Residents (DAPA) program,” Lara explained.
SB 4 more popularly known as health for all bill was introduced by Lara with Assembly Member Rob Bonta, the lone Filipino American Assembly member, who is also the State Assembly Health Committee Chair. Other co-authors include nine senators and 4 Assembly members.
Both Lara and Bonta are sons of immigrants and strong supporters of undocumented members of their communities.
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