State senator says he'll continue pushing California health care for all immigrants next year

Government And Institutions Associated Press

A Democratic state lawmaker on Friday dropped his effort to allow people who are in the country illegally to buy private insurance through the state's health insurance marketplace.

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Sen. Ricardo Lara, D-Bell Gardens, removed language seeking a federal waiver that would allow immigrants to purchase unsubsidized coverage through Covered California.

His bill, SB4, now would only offer health coverage for immigrant children from low-income families. Earlier this year, Gov. Jerry Brown and legislative leaders extended state funding to cover children under 19 in Medi-Cal, the state's health care program for the poor, regardless of their legal status.

California is projected to spend $40 million to begin covering children from low-income families who are in the country illegally. The cost to taxpayers is estimated to increase to $132 million annually once fully implemented.

"For the first time, starting in May 2016, California will provide full-scope Medi-Cal coverage to all kids regardless of their immigration status," Lara said in a statement. "This major victory for the immigrant community is a down payment on achieving true health for all."

Lara said he will continue to push legislation next year to extend coverage to all immigrants regardless of status. California has an estimated 2.5 million residents who are in the country illegally.

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The lawmaker plans to do so through another bill, SB10, which seeks to extend Medi-Cal coverage to low-income adults who are in the country illegally. That legislation, to be considered by lawmakers next year, will be amended to include the proposal seeking a waiver for Covered California, according to Lara's office.

Californians increasingly support extending public health care services to immigrants who are in the country illegally.

According to a survey released by the Field Poll last month, 58 percent of registered California voters supported extending Medi-Cal services to immigrants not currently eligible for coverage under the Affordable Care Act, while 39 percent were opposed.

Immigrants who are in the country illegally are not eligible to buy coverage in exchanges under the Affordable Care Act, even if it's unsubsidized. They are, however, able to buy private health insurance outside the exchanges. Health advocates suggest that changing this would allow families of mixed status to be on one plan.