About 90,000 undocumented immigrants ages 19 to 25 will be eligible for California’s version of Medicaid – the health insurance program for people with low incomes – under a state budget deal worked out by Democrats who control the state Legislature and Gov. Gavin Newsom.
Once the agreement is passed by the Legislature and signed into law by the governor, California will become the first state in the nation next year to offer government-provided health insurance to some immigrants who are undocumented.
What? Provide health insurance to people who came to the United States illegally!
Yes. It’s humane. And California’s leaders believe that health care is a fundamental right.
Under the budget agreement, health insurance will be provided to undocumented immigrants who qualify under California’s version of Medicaid, which is known as Medi-Cal.
The budget agreement will also provide access to health care subsidies for middle-income families. A family of four earning as much as $150,000 a year would be eligible for $100 a month to help offset the cost of health insurance.
How will California pay for this?
The state budget agreement calls for taxing people who don’t carry health insurance to cover part of the cost. This penalty is similar to the individual mandate included in the Affordable Care Act. So California is doing on a state level what ObamaCare did on a federal level.
California’s leaders believes that health care is a fundamental right.
And what about the cost? At first glance, the plan looks very expensive. It will cost approximately $98 million annually. That number may sound high, but it’s not as high as the cost of expanding this coverage to the elderly, which would put the price tag at around $3.4 billion.
Obviously, Republicans don’t like this deal. Not in California nor in the nation.
In 2017 Republicans in Congress eliminated the individual mandate under ObamaCare, which required most people to have a minimum amount of health insurance coverage or pay a fine.
Republicans in the California Legislature feel this budget initiative punishes Americans for not having insurance, in order to provide health care to those who came to the U.S. illegally. And some feel that California should just write the check without taxing this segment of the population, since the state is projected to have a surplus of more than $20 billion.
Although many on the left are happy with the Medi-Cal agreement, there are some who feel it doesn’t go far enough. The California Immigrant Policy Center said: "The exclusion of undocumented elders from the same health care their U.S. citizen neighbors are eligible for means beloved community members will suffer and die from treatable conditions."
And there are those like Health Access, a health rights advocacy group that believes the program will be expanded to include others – perhaps the elderly – in the future.
So California believes health care is a fundamental human right. What about the doctors and the hospitals?
Currently, in every state doctors are required to take an oath to first do no harm.
There is also the Emergency Medical Treatment Act, a law that since 1986 has required emergency room health care workers to stabilize and treat everyone who enters regardless of whether they have health insurance.
Both public and private hospitals are prohibited from turning people away.
In other words, taxpayers in California are paying for the individuals covered under the budget agreement to be treated one way or another – either through an individual mandate charge or through higher insurance premiums and longer wait times at hospital emergency rooms.
I live in California and I think my state is doing the right thing with the passage of this legislation.
We are, after all, not only a nation of laws, but a nation of human beings. And providing health insurance is the humane thing to do regardless of someone’s citizenship or how he or she got here.