Capitol Alert

With funding in doubt, immigrant health care bill advances

Akiko Aspillaga of San Francisco reads a poem at a rally for SB 4, a bill to provide health care to undocumented immigrants, Wednesday at the Capitol.
Akiko Aspillaga of San Francisco reads a poem at a rally for SB 4, a bill to provide health care to undocumented immigrants, Wednesday at the Capitol. hamezcua@sacbee.com

After stalling last year because of funding concerns, a scaled-back plan to expand health coverage to Californians in the country illegally passed its first Senate committee on Wednesday.

But SB 4, which would make undocumented immigrants eligible for Medi-Cal and seek a federal waiver allowing them to purchase unsubsidized health insurance on the state exchange, still faces its biggest hurdles over cost.

Discussion at Wednesday’s hearing of the Senate Health Committee, which was meant to review the proposal conceptually, largely revolved around finances. Sen. Ricardo Lara, a Bell Gardens Democrat who introduced the bill, said it would take an estimated $400 million to $800 million annually to expand Medi-Cal to about 1 million undocumented immigrants, some of which could be redirected from state programs covering emergency health care for the uninsured.

Sen. Janet Nguyen, R-Garden Grove, balked at the price tag and worried that it would further strain the state’s Medi-Cal program.

“We don’t have enough doctors ... willing to accept Medi-Cal patients” because of low reimbursement rates, she said. “What happens when we add millions more people to a system that is already struggling to serve its members?”

Democratic senators Richard Roth of Riverside, Lois Wolk of Davis and Ed Hernandez of Azusa urged the Legislature to make the proposal a budget priority. “We need to find this money,” Roth said.

The bill next goes to the Senate Appropriations Committee, which will analyze its fiscal impact.

Call The Bee’s Alexei Koseff, (916) 321-5236. Follow him on Twitter @akoseff.

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