Calif. Bill to Provide State-Funded Health Insurance to Illegal Immigrants

by Alec Torres
Magical thinking: Long Beach state senator claims more public assistance will reduce costs.

A Democratic state senator in California has proposed a bill to allow illegal immigrants access to Medi-Cal, California’s state-funded low-income health-care program. The bill would also create a new health insurance exchange similar to Covered California for illegal immigrants.

The bill, the “Health for All Act,” was proposed by Senator Ricardo Lara of Long Beach and Southeast Los Angeles. Right now illegal immigrants only have access to emergency and pregnancy coverage, according to Kaiser Health News.

“The purpose of the Health For All Act is simple — provide health care coverage to California’s remaining uninsured by expanding Medi-Cal and creating a new health exchange where the undocumented can purchase coverage,” Lara said in a statement. “While we’ve made enormous strides to reduce California’s uninsured population with the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, we won’t have a truly healthy state until everyone has access to quality, affordable coverage.”

California currently has an estimated illegal immigrant population of 2.5 million out of 38 million residents. An estimated one million of those immigrants lack health insurance.

Lara says that offering health insurance to California’s low-income illegal immigrant population will relieve overcrowding in emergency rooms and reduce the cost of health care in California, in part by increasing early diagnosis of problems before the problems become more expensive to treat.

A cost-reduction study by the New England Journal of Medicine, however, calls political claims about cost reform through preventive care “overreaching” and “misleading,” noting that in many cases the kind of early intervention Lara result in increases in costs.

“Excluding people from access to care hurts the overall health of our communities, and does not reflect California values,” Lara said.

The bill, if passed, would be the next in a series of changes in California granting increased privileges and rights to illegal immigrants. In October, Governor Jerry Brown signed a law allowing illegal immigrants to obtain law licenses, even as he vetoed a law allowing non-citizens to serve jury duty. The California Supreme Court later ruled the law granting illegal immigrants the ability to get law licenses constitutional.

In September, the California state assembly voted 55—19 to allow illegal immigrants to receive driver’s licenses. This law will take effect beginning January 1, 2015.

Lara did not specify how much the proposed expansion of Medi-Cal coverage to low-income illegal immigrants will cost California or where the funding for the expansion will come from.

— Alec Torres is a William F. Buckley Fellow at the National Review Institute.