Capitol Alert

More undocumented immigrants in California would get health care under Democrats’ plan

Influential Democratic state lawmakers are re-introducing bills Monday to give immigrants without legal status access to Medi-Cal, California’s health care program for low-income people.

Outgoing Sen. Ricardo Lara, incoming Sen. Maria Elena Durazo and Assemblyman Joaquin Arambula are introducing identical bills in each house, a frequent tactic for significant legislation.

The bills would allow all adults, regardless of immigration status, to be eligible for Medi-Cal.

Lara, who was elected state insurance commissioner and will leave the Senate next month, and Arambula proposed similar bills last session that didn’t pass.

Children without legal status are already eligible for Medi-Cal benefits under a 2016 law, which has expanded coverage to more than 200,000 children. People over 19 who don’t have legal authorization to live in the United States have access to some limited Medi-Cal benefits including pregnancy and emergency care.

The effort last session to expand full Medi-Cal benefits to immigrants living in the country illegally didn’t make it into the final budget.

“It’s something that is urgently needed across immigrant communities in California,” said Carolina Gamero, a spokeswoman for the California Immigrant Policy Center, which is supporting the bills. “The longer that we wait and the longer we keep up this unjust exclusion, it’s really setting back California.”

Although they were disappointed outgoing Gov. Jerry Brown didn’t prioritize the issue in budget negotiations last session, advocates are hopeful incoming Gov. Gavin Newsom will embrace the proposal, Gamero said.

Newsom campaigned on expanding access to health care. Most uninsured people in California are not eligible for coverage because of their immigration status.

“You cannot talk about universal health care in California unless you talk about health care for the undocumented,” said Rachel Linn Gish, spokeswoman for consumer group Health Access California.

Analyses of previous versions of the proposal found it could expand coverage to an estimated 1.2 million adults without legal status who meet the income requirements to enroll in Medi-Cal.

The Legislative Analyst’s Office estimated last session that the plan would cost roughly $3 billion per year. Federal limitations on undocumented immigrants accessing publicly funded health care would force the state to shoulder the full cost, a high price tag that has prevented past proposals from advancing.

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