Capitol Alert

California considers health coverage for low-income undocumented immigrants

In this April 26, 2017, file photo, supporters of single-payer health care march to the Capitol in Sacramento, Calif.
In this April 26, 2017, file photo, supporters of single-payer health care march to the Capitol in Sacramento, Calif. AP

Buried in the heated statewide debate over sanctuary protections for undocumented immigrants and single-payer health care, a pair of health care bills advancing again in the Legislature would grant health care to more than a million immigrants living in California illegally.

Bills from state Sen. Ricardo Lara, D-Bell Gardens, and Assemblyman Joaquin Arambula, D-Fresno, would expand full-scope Medi-Cal to undocumented adults, allowing an estimated 1.3 million eligible residents to use the state's low-income health care program for primary and specialty care.

At present, low-income undocumented adults are covered for very limited services – emergencies and pregnancy-related care. Lara's 2015 bill signed into law by Gov. Jerry Brown expanded Medi-Cal to undocumented kids and teens.

The proposals for low-income adults are flying somewhat under the radar, as President Donald Trump rips California for its "sanctuary state" law, and Democrats attack each other over their positions on more expansive health care ideas like single-payer.

Lara's Senate Bill 974 passed the Senate health committee April 5. Arambula's Assembly Bill 2965 cleared the Assembly's health committee this week. Both head next to fiscal committees where the projected cost will be the major focus. Lara's Senate Bill 1005 in 2014 died in the Senate Appropriations Committee, which had estimated increased Medi-Cal costs to the state of $500 million to $900 million a year.

Lara and Arambula congratulated each other on their respective efforts in a press call this week. They'd likely work together to merge their bills into one as the legislative process unfolds.

Proponents of the measures say part of the state's multibillion-dollar budget surplus this year could cover the cost, but Brown has pushed to preserve the surplus ahead of a potential future economic downturn.

Lara, a co-author of the Senate Bill 562 single-payer proposal currently stalled in the Assembly, is not giving up on the sweeping effort, but he said this week that expanding coverage to undocumented immigrants would "cut the uninsured rate in California to a historic low and reduce the costs from emergency health care," helping not only immigrants but the health care system as a whole, in part by reducing overall emergency room costs.

An estimated 2.8 million Californians remain uninsured, and more than half – 1.8 million people – are undocumented immigrants. Of that population, up to 1.3 million are believed to have incomes low enough to qualify for Medi-Cal. The vast majority of the remaining uninsured earn too much money to qualify, yet can't afford to purchase insurance.

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MCFADDEN MEMORIAL: On Friday, Gov. Jerry Brown will deliver a eulogy and singer Jackson Browne will perform a remembrance at the memorial mass for Nancy McFadden, Brown's executive secretary and chief of staff who died at 59 on March 22 after a battle with cancer. Friends, family and colleagues are invited at 2 p.m. Friday to St. Francis Parish, 1066 26th St. in Sacramento. Former first lady Maria Shriver and two of McFadden's friends also will deliver remarks. In lieu of flowers, McFadden preferred three charities, the University of Virginia Law School Foundation, the Commonweal Cancer Help Program and the Women's Alzheimer's Movement.

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CHIANG LOSES LAW ENFORCEMENT: Gubernatorial candidate John Chiang has lost the endorsement of a Los Angeles law enforcement union after he said California must have tough conversations about excessive use of force by law enforcement and consider changes to how the state investigates officer-involved shootings.

"As a state, we must rethink the way we police, from where and how we recruit officers, to the training we provide them," Chiang said in a statement. "From ensuring de-escalation is the first step, not an afterthought, to providing police departments with the tools necessary to do the job right. Ultimately, we need to have a real conversation about the root of this problem and why Black Lives Matter."

His comments came in the aftermath of the shooting of Stephon Clark, the unarmed black man who was killed by Sacramento police last month.

The Association for Los Angeles Deputy Sheriffs initially endorsed Chiang, but rescinded the endorsement, citing his public comments.

"Incidents like the officer-involved shooting in Sacramento is heartbreaking for all involved, but blaming officers first is not an answer to the issues facing the communities we are sworn to protect and serve," wrote the union's board president Ron Hernandez in a letter to Chiang. "While we are certain that there are those who would celebrate your statement on the issue, we regret the divisiveness and apparent opportunism of your approach. Please remove our association from your list of supporters."

Chiang said this week he'd liked to have kept the endorsement, but the conversation about police use of force and misconduct is more important. He said he was not blaming officers, but insisting a dialogue is necessary for change.

FEINSTEIN VS. DE LEÓN: Billionaire Democratic donor Tom Steyer has endorsed state Sen. Kevin de León in his insurgent bid to unseat fellow Democrat and longtime U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein. De León said in response that they share "a desire to grow California's economy by cleaning up our environment and creating good-paying jobs at the same time.... Together we will set a new tone in Washington, D.C. to face the threat of climate change head-on and beat back an administration that treats our state with hostility."

Feinstein is leading him in both fundraising and public opinion polls. A March survey from the Public Policy Institute of California had Feinstein with a double-digit lead over De León – 42 percent to his 16 percent, with 39 percent of likely voters undecided.

NEWSOM TAKES ON TRUMP: Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom rebuffed Trump's message that Californians are revolting against Democrats over the state's so-called "sanctuary state" legislation signed into law last year by Brown.

"There is a Revolution going on in California. Soooo many cities want OUT of Trump's ridiculous & xenophobic policies," Newsom wrote on Twitter Wednesday. "Jerry Brown is trying to defend CA's values, but the people of the Trump Administration are not happy. Want restoration of commonsense policies and decency NOW!"

His tweet parroted the tone and style of one from Trump earlier in the day, with a wholly different message.

"There is a Revolution going on in California. Soooo many Sanctuary areas want OUT of this ridiculous, crime infested & breeding concept," Trump said on Twitter. "Jerry Brown is trying to back out of the National Guard at the Border, but the people of the State are not happy. Want Security & Safety NOW!"

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