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California Effort Underway To Allow Undocumented Immigrants Health Care Coverage

State Sen. Ricardo Lara, D-Bell Gardens, left. talks with Sen. Kevin de Leon, D-Los Angeles, during the Senate session at the Capitol in Sacramento, Calif., Wednesday, May 29, 2013. By a 27-9 vote the Senate approved Lara's bill that would use California's tax policy in an attempt to pressure the Boys Scouts of America into fully accepting gay members. The bill SB323 gets rid of a tax exemption for sales and use taxes, as well as corporate taxes, for youth groups that discriminate. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)

CREDIT: AP/Rich Pedroncelli

As of right now, the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, prohibits people in the country illegally from purchasing health plan coverage through state exchanges even if they are able to pay the entire price. Furthermore, undocumented immigrants cannot participate in federally funded health insurance programs except when receiving emergency care, according to the Hastings Center, a nonpartisan bioethics research institute in New York.

The state of California, however, is challenging that policy, with lawmakers recently requesting formal permission from the federal government to allow those without legal papers to purchase health insurance through the state’s healthcare exchange earlier this month.

According to the Los Angeles Times, full federal permission would allow as many as 390,000 immigrants who earn an income too high to qualify for Medi-Cal (the state’s low-cost health coverage program offered to children and adults with limited income) to purchase healthcare through the exchange under the Affordable Care Act, and in the end, would not cost California or U.S. taxpayers a single dime.

Authored by State Sen. Ricardo Lara (D-Bell Gardens), the proposal, titled SB 10, seeks to affirm “our commitment to embrace and integrate our immigrant community, to lead where the federal government has failed and to acknowledge the hard work and sacrifice of a community that contributes billions of dollars to our GDP,” Lara says. He adds that the board understands that “prohibiting immigrants from buying insurance from the state exchange with their own money is an irrational and discriminatory policy that doesn’t reflect our California values.”

Though Gov. Jerry Brown has not officially taken a public position on the bill, many supporters say it may appeal to the governor because it would not cost the state any additional expenses. Just last year, the state legislature approved another measure from Lara, this time extending public healthcare to some 170,000 children living illegally in the country at a cost of $40 million to the state.

SB 10 will build upon a campaign by the California Latino Legislative Caucus to eventually provide healthcare coverage for all immigrants, and according to the Times, “has a good chance of passing the Legislature, coming just days after the Covered California board endorsed a proposal to apply for a waiver to allow immigrants in the country illegally to buy health insurance with their own money through the exchange.”

Unfortunately, not everyone is happy about Lara’s proposal. We the People Rising, a Southern California-based group calling for strict enforcement of immigration laws says that the measure could further encourage individuals to illegally cross the border into the U.S. “We oppose that [bill] because that encourages illegal immigration,” says Robin Hvidston, executive director of the group. “It sends a message to the world that if you come to our country you will be rewarded.”

Lara and fellow advocates, however, strongly disagree, and will continue making attempts to keep the entire demographic of California healthy. According to estimates in 2010, the Golden State currently maintains the largest population of undocumented immigrants in the country, at about 2.6. million. To be enacted, the waiver must be approved by the state legislature, the governor, and then the federal Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Treasury, who will have 225 days to make a decision. Lara hopes to have the request considered by the Obama administration before the President leaves office.

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