California Bill Seeks Comprehensive Health Care for Illegal Immigrants

By Joe Guzzardi
February 24, 2014

If there’s one thing Californians know, it’s that when it comes to the illegal immigration lobby, nothing is ever enough. Last year was a triumphant one for California’s immigration advocates. Governor Jerry Brown signed legislation that will allow illegal immigrants to get driver’s licenses, removes some criminal illegal immigrants from the risk of deportation and allows aliens to practice law. 

By any measure, that’s a banner year for California's illegal immigrants. But a mere four months after Brown affixed his name to those ill-advised bills, state Senator Ricardo Lara introduced S. 1005, legislation that would allow illegal immigrants access to Medi-Cal, the state-funded low-income health care program. Lara’s Health for All Act would also create a new health insurance exchange similar to the Affordable Care Act’s Covered California. The bill, co-authored by 16 state legislators, proposes giving access to health insurance to as many as 2.6 million aliens who are expressly barred from enrolling in ACA.

Although he has no idea how it would be funded or specifically how much it would cost, he estimates S. 1005 would be less than the $1.4 billion the state spends providing emergency care to uninsured Californians. Disingenuously, Lara argues that preventive health care would eliminate the need for many emergency services. Another supporter, Health Access California’s executive director Anthony Wright claims that "It's cheaper to provide access to primary, preventive care than to treat illnesses after they develop." 

But when the non-partisan New England Journal of Medicine studied the relationship between preventive measures and long-term cost reduction, it found that savings claims like Lara’s are “overreaching” and “misleading.” Moreover, Lara and Wright grossly underestimate the cost which, based on California’s 2.6 million illegal immigrant population, could exceed $5 billion.

During the two decades since California voters approved Prop. 187 that would have excluded illegal immigrants from its education and health programs, the state has given away the store. California does more to accommodate illegal immigrants and is more pro-active on their behalf than any other state. 

Beyond S. 1005, other national healthcare pitfalls loom. First, there’s the always present risk that the ongoing congressional immigration debate will end in a blanket amnesty which would eventually make the nation’s 12 million aliens ACA-eligible. Or, second, President Obama may make yet another ACA change, his 28th overall, and through an executive action officially allow illegal immigrants to enroll. Although President Obama denies it, critics have long charged that the White House’s goal has always been to include illegal immigrants in ACA.

In language that’s a clear invitation to illegal immigrants to apply, the Covered California website confirms skeptics’ doubts. The website’s Spanish-language version reassures visitors who want to enroll their families not to “fear” if they are “undocumented.” Don’t worry, Covered California continues, “that we might share information with ICE.” 

Any alien entitlement bill that reaches Governor Brown’s desk has a high probability of becoming law. If that happens, California could be just the tip of the iceberg. New York, Arizona, Texas and Illinois also have high uninsured illegal immigrant populations with well organized lobbies that could result in more costly, widespread state legislation similar to S. 1005.

As privileges for illegal immigrants mount, the incentives to come to the U.S. illegally grow ever more alluring. In the meantime, state and federal leaders elected to protect Americans’ best interests grow increasingly disinterested in their constituents’ fates.

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Joe Guzzardi is a Californians for Population Stabilization Senior Writing Fellow whose columns have been syndicated since 1987. Contact him at joeguzzardi@capsweb.org

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