California to Pay for Full Health Benefits for Some Undocumented Adults


Some of the undocumented immigrants living in California will potentially be getting health care coverage if the state legislature signs off on the new budget plan.

They agreed to make adults between the ages of 19 and 25 eligible for the state’s Medicaid program (Medi-Cal), applicable to people whose incomes are low enough to qualify for the program. State officials estimate the program will cover an additional 90,000 people.

Under California law, they must enact a budget by midnight on June 15 and if they sign off on it, California will become the first state to use taxpayer money to fund full health care coverage for undocumented immigrants. Governor Gavin Newsom proposed the deal but rejected a state Senate plan to include adults 65 and older since it would have cost $3.4 billion. The expansion will take effect Jan. 1, 2020 and cost $98 million in the upcoming fiscal year.

“California believes that health is a fundamental right,” said state Sen. Holly Mitchell, a Los Angeles Democrat who led the budget negotiations told the Associated Press.

California was home to between 2.35 and 2.6 million undocumented immigrants in 2014 according to the Public Policy Institute of California, though there’s no way to verify the exact number.

The budget includes a fine on people who don’t buy health insurance known as an individual mandate, initially implemented as part of the federal Affordable Care Act law (ACA) also known as Obamacare. It was initially rolled back by Republicans in 2017 but Newsom and legislative leaders suggest that reimposing the penalty will keep premiums from rising dramatically and help pay for coverage for undocumented immigrants.

According to the Sacramento Bee, lawmakers want to use an “extraordinary” state budget surplus to expand health care options for undocumented people.

“For California’s immigrant communities, today’s budget deal is bittersweet,” Cynthia Buiza, executive director of the California Immigrant Policy Center, said in a statement “The exclusion of undocumented elders from the same health care their U.S. citizen neighbors are eligible for means beloved community members will suffer and die from treatable conditions. And the exclusion of many immigrants from the Earned Income Tax Credit will perpetuate the crisis of economic inequality in our state.”

Some documented immigrants are already enrolled for some government-funded programs, but they only cover emergencies and pregnancies.

Undocumented immigrants were excluded from the ACA provisions and comprise the largest segment of this group, according to the Public Policy Institute of California. Access to healthcare can be the difference between life or death, as was the case with Lilian Serrano’s undocumented mother-in-law, Genoveva Angeles, who initially dismissed her stomach problems, blaming it on food.

She visited a clinic in the San Diego area which suspected it might be cancer but they lacked the equipment to test for it and she couldn’t afford to see a specialist and she didn’t qualify for state assistance as she was undocumented.

She later learned she had gallbladder cancer. Serrano said she was in the hospital room when Angeles, in her late 60s, died about two weeks later.

We don’t know if she would have survived treatment, but she was not even able to access it,” said Serrano, chairwoman of the San Diego Immigrant Rights Consortium.”She never had a chance to fight cancer,” she told the Associated Press. 

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