Immigrants in California illegally moved closer to being able to purchase health insurance through public channels on Friday, as Gov. Jerry Brown signed a bill seeking federal permission for unauthorized residents to participate in the state’s insurance exchange.
Senate Bill 10 would ask for a federal waiver allowing immigrants to purchase plans through Covered California, the state exchange created by the federal health care overhaul. It would not allow undocumented immigrants to obtain the public subsidies available to American citizens and legal residents.
In signing the bill, Brown extended his support for health care coverage of the undocumented. Last year, Brown agreed to offer undocumented immigrant children full-scope benefits under Medi-Cal, California’s insurance program for low-income residents.
Insurance coverage has become a key goal for immigrant advocacy groups and some public health organizations, who say broadening health care access is both humane and more cost-effective than having immigrants rely on emergency room care. Supporters say enrolling more people will make Covered California more effective.
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“Today we ask the federal government to remove barriers to health insurance access that discriminates against some of our residents on the basis of their documentation status,” Sen. Ricardo Lara, D-Bell Gardens, said in a statement. “The current policy disallowing immigrants from purchasing care with their own money is both discriminatory and outdated.”
California would become the first state to let undocumented immigrants participate in its exchange. California Immigrant Policy Center executive director Cynthia Buiza said in a statement she hoped the move would “set another powerful precedent for other states to take action and ensure that everyone has the opportunity to purchase health coverage through their state’s insurance marketplace.”
Republicans who opposed the bill in the Legislature said it would overburden an already strained health care system, potentially driving up premiums, and draw more undocumented immigrants to California.
“If we can’t even take care of our own citizens and legal residents, why would we want to take care of others?” Assemblyman Travis Allen, R-Huntington Beach, argued during a floor debate.
Numerous social media users reacted to Friday’s announcement by hearkening back to when Rep. Joe Wilson, R-S.C., shouted “you lie!” in 2009 when President Barack Obama said his proposed health care plan would “not apply to those who are here illegally,” saying Wilson had been vindicated.