Calif. legislature will consider health coverage for undocumented

A bill to extend health coverage to all Californians regardless of their immigration status will be among items California’s new legislature will consider when it returns to work after the New Year.

As the legislature held its opening session Dec. 1, state Senator Ricardo Lara introduced SB 4, the Health for All Act of 2015. The bill aims to expand coverage under Medi-Cal (California’s Medicare) to income-eligible residents whether documented or not. It would also set up a marketplace that would “mirror” Covered California, the state’s health care exchange under the Affordable Care Act. The ACA, or “Obamacare,” specifically excludes undocumented people from coverage.

In introducing the measure, Lara cited President Obama’s executive action on immigration reform. Those eligible for the expanded “deferred action” status are still excluded from federal health programs.

“Although it’s no substitute for comprehensive immigration reform in Congress, President Obama’s action is a tremendous step forward for our immigrant community,” Lara said. “But we’ll still have a significant population without access to affordable health care.”

SB 4 is similar to a measure Lara introduced last year, which failed to make it out of the state Senate’s appropriations committee, reportedly because of concerns over its potential cost.

A coalition of over 30 California immigrant rights and health organizations praised the Health for All Act’s reintroduction, calling the measure “the logical next step to build upon California’s powerful leadership in passing welcoming, inclusive policies.”

 “We believe that no one should suffer or die from a treatable condition, no matter where they were born,” the coalition’s statement said. “We’re all in this together, and we’re all healthier when all are covered.”

Among signers were the California Immigrant Policy Center, California Labor Federation, California Pan-Ethnic Health Network, Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles (CHIRLA), Health Access California, and the Western Center on Law and Poverty.

Meanwhile, the Los Angeles Times reported Dec. 3 that California Governor Jerry Brown is considering expanding state-funded Medi-Cal coverage to undocumented people eligible for deferred action under the president’s order.

In a related action Dec. 1, Sen. Lara introduced another bill, SB 10, to establish the California Office of New Americans, to provide education, application assistance, legal services, English instruction, civics classes and fraud prevention to undocumented immigrants. Of an estimated 2.6 million undocumented Californians, over 1.5 million are estimated to be eligible for deferred action.

A study issued by the UC Berkeley Labor Center last spring found that new costs of covering Californians eligible by income for Medi-Cal but unable to enroll because of immigration status would be modest, while health benefits would be significant.  The study said undocumented immigrants make up 9 percent of the state’s workforce, and pay over $2 billion in state and local taxes annually.

In recent years California has led in adopting other pro-immigrant measures including student financial aid for DREAM Act students, drivers’ licenses for undocumented residents, and extending Medi-Cal to recent documented immigrants and DREAMers who qualify financially.

Photo: Gary Kazanjian/AP


Marilyn Bechtel
Marilyn Bechtel

Marilyn Bechtel writes from the San Francisco Bay Area. She joined the PW staff in 1986 and currently participates as a volunteer. Marilyn Bechtel escribe desde el Área de la Bahía de San Francisco. Se unió al personal de PW en 1986 y actualmente participa como voluntaria.