With the approval of the new $308 billion 2022-2023 budget on Thursday, California is poised to become the first state to offer free health coverage to all undocumented immigrants.
The historic measure, which has a budget of $2.7 billion, comes to include undocumented immigrants between the ages of 26 and 49 in free health programs, which will mean expanding Medi-Cal protection to more than 700,000 more people , the largest expansion of a health program since the passage of the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare).
State Senator María Elena Durazo, on Twitter, celebrated the measure as “a victory for the millions of undocumented Californians who contribute $3.7 billion in state and local taxes, and more than $40 billion in purchasing power, to our economy each year.” “We are all going to be much better off once each of us has access to health care,” she added.
The new Californian budget also includes funds for abortions for women who cannot afford them and refunds to most taxpayers to compensate for the high prices of gasoline ($6.30 per gallon, the most expensive in the country). In addition, it contemplates a record investment for public schools, including $2.8 billion to compensate school districts for falling enrollment since they reopened after the pandemic.
All thanks to a surplus of $97 billion, the largest in history, harvested after, in the face of fears unleashed by the pandemic, the most populous state in the country raised taxes and cut spending.
The first state to give free health coverage to all undocumented immigrants
Medi-Cal already offers subsidized insurance to undocumented immigrants under 26, over 49, and recipients of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA).
According to a study of Center for Labor Education and Research at the University of California at BerkeleyOf the 3.2 million uninsured in the state, 1.3 million are undocumented migrants, the largest such group.
The budget signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom provides for making all low-income adults, regardless of immigration status, eligible for state Medicaid.
Across the country, the federal and state governments offer free health coverage to low-income adults and children through the Medicaid program. But the federal government excludes those who are in the country irregularly.
Immigrants who remain in the country irregularly exceed 22 million, according to data from the Kaiser Family Foundation, an NGO in the health sector, cited by AP. They are the largest uninsured group in the country.
And although they are not eligible for most public health services, they have been slowly gaining access to some programs. As many as 18 states offer prenatal care, and eight states provide free coverage to children from low-income families. California and Illinois had also expanded coverage to immigrant older adults.
Now, California is going to be the first to offer free health coverage to everyone, starting January 1, 2024.
“This is what it’s like to be pro-life,” Newsom wrote on Twitter, alluding to the Supreme Court’s recent strike down of abortion as a constitutional right.
The difficulties facing California in expanding health
The first obstacle faced by expanding health coverage to all immigrants, already overcome, was the opposition to the measure by Republican representatives and conservative activists from California who consider the measure a “magnet” that can cause a knock-on effect.
This was stated by Jon Coupal, president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, quoted by AP.
“I think many of us are very understanding of the immigrant community, but we really wish we had better control of who enters the country and the state,” said Copual.
In any case, the expansion of Californian Medicaid will not be easy due to an unfortunate confluence of events, among which is the end of some federal policies initiated by the pandemic.
That is why some 40,000 low-income immigrants will lose their health coverage during the year 2023, before the California expansion takes effect.
In the past, implementation of the Medicaid expansion has taken California between six months and a year. Newson says it takes a year and a half to manage him because it’s a much bigger expansion.
Health care advocates say the coverage gap is significant for low-income immigrants living in the country illegally because they have no other options.
Citizens, when they lose their Medicaid coverage, can purchase coverage from Covered California, the state-run health insurance exchange marketplace, and likely qualify for a significant discount.
“But for this population, that’s it. (Medicaid) is the only public program available to them,” said Sarah Dar, director of public benefits and health policy at the California Immigrant Policy Center.
Democrats in the state Legislature say they are working with the Newsom administration to speed up the process.
“We are doing everything we can. We are talking to the administration, talking to the leaders of the (California) Department of Health, to make sure that we do it as quickly as possible and that no one loses coverage in the meantime,” said Democratic Senator María Elena Durazo.
“It makes no sense to lose them and then take them out and then put them back in.”