Historic Vote Takes California’s Undocumented a Step Closer to Health Care

By Viji Sundaram, New America Media

New America Media – A sweeping bill that will expand health care coverage to California’s undocumented population sailed through the State Senate Wednesday on a 28 to 11 vote.

All 26 Democrats on the Senate, plus two Republicans – Assemblymembers Anthony Cannella (R-Ceres) and Andy Vidak (R-Hanford) — gave the bill their nod.

“Today’s vote is a transformational and decisive step forward on the path to achieving health for all,” said the bill’s author Sen. Ricardo Lara, (D-Bell Gardens), in a statement. “Over the past year, I’ve worked to draft a bill that is realistic, balanced and fiscally prudent, while arriving at our goal of expanding access to health care for some of our most vulnerable communities.”

The bill, if passed by the Assembly and signed by Gov. Jerry Brown, would allow undocumented Californians to buy health insurance with their own money through the online exchange, Covered California, pending permission from the federal government.

Senate Bill (SB) 4 gives all adults, regardless of their immigration status, access to health care, but it would not be an entitlement. It would only cover those enrolled up to a capped budget level each year in Medi-Cal (California’s name for Medicaid), the health insurance program for low-income people.

However, another provision of SB 4 that would allow all children, 19 and under, to enroll in Medi-Cal, would entitle all who qualify to received health benefits, no mater how limited the program’s budget is.

In May, the Senate Budget Sub-Committee set aside $40 million to begin covering children who are among the state’s nearly 2.5 million residents remaining uninsured because they don’t qualify for full-scope Medi-Cal because of their immigration status or their income level. The committee made the $40 million allocation after the Senate Appropriations Committee scaled back the cost of SB 4, pegged earlier as $740 million. A stalled version of the bill last year came with a $1.4 billion price tag.

Although legislative analysts have not yet estimated the total cost of the scaled back plan, providing Medi-Cal to the state’s 200,000 or so undocumented children could run anywhere between $7 million and $135 million. But president Obama’s executive action on immigration could greatly reduce those amounts.

“Once Obama’s executive action moves forward, the cost could drop to between $4 million and $83 million,” asserted Ronald Coleman, government policy analyst with the California Immigrant Policy Center.

The executive action, announced by the President last November, would grant a three-year renewable deportation reprieve to 5.6 million undocumented people nationwide by expanding the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, as well as by launching the Deferred Action for Parents of Americans (DAPA) program. An estimated 1 million California residents could benefit from the programs, which are now suspended pending decisions on federal court lawsuits.

Immigrant and health care advocates in California hailed the passage of SB 4 in the Senate.

Marielena Hincapie, executive director of the National Immigration Law Center, said, “Senator Lara’s bill is urgently needed, not just for immigrant communities, but for all Californians. Our communities and economy are stronger if everyone has access to quality, affordable health care.”

Anthony Wright, executive director of Health Access California, a statewide consumer advocacy network, called the bill “transformational” and a “first of its kind by a state legislative chamber.”

Reshma Shamasunder, executive director of the California Immigrant Policy Center, urged Governor Brown to “invest real dollars in measures like SB 4.”

If the Assembly Health Committee, where the bill is now headed, approves SB 4, the Assembly Appropriations Committee has to come up with its own price tag for the bill. Both chambers would then have to reconcile the funding amount before the bill reaches the governor’s desk.

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June 4, 2015  Copyright © 2012 Eastern Group Publications, Inc.

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