Legislator Vows to Seek More Healthcare Coverage for Immigrants

Healthcare advocates in California this year successfully pushed for medical coverage for kids who are in the country illegally. But they say they’re not satisfied.

At a news conference Thursday, state Sen. Ricardo Lara (D-Bell Gardens) outlined his efforts to further expand coverage to Californians who entered the country illegally.

Immigrants without legal status are barred from signing up for health insurance under the Affordable Care Act. In the state with the largest population of such immigrants — 2.7 million — they now make up the single biggest group of Californians without insurance.

How to provide healthcare to this group has been a recurring policy debate across the state this year. Last month, Gov. Jerry Brown agreed to set aside $40 million in the budget to pay for healthcare for children who entered the country illegally.

Lara had originally proposed providing coverage to all immigrants who entered the state illegally, but it was pared down after it was priced at more than a billion dollars.

Critics of such proposals nationwide typically cite the large costs of providing coverage, especially when most local governments are still recovering from the recession.

Experts say that it’s politically easier to get coverage for kids, because they’re sympathetic and their medical expenses are usually lower than adults. Already, four states — Massachusetts, Illinois, New York and Washington — and Washington, D.C., provide health coverage to kids who are in the country illegally.

Lara said that next year he plans to introduce a bill, SB 10, that would allow adults in the country illegally to join Medi-Cal, the state’s low-income health program for the poor.

“We are not done yet,” he said while speaking at St. John’s Well Child & Family Center in South L.A. “To all the skeptics, I say ‘Look what we were able to accomplish this year.'”

The Legislature is also considering SB 4, which would ask permission from the federal government to let such immigrants buy insurance through the state’s Obamacare insurance exchange, Covered California. That would allow 390,000 Californians to sign up for coverage, he said.

Because the Affordable Care Act does not allow unauthorized immigrants to sign up for coverage, they’re barred from purchasing insurance through the exchange. California would be the first state to ask for such a waiver.