Since the launch of the Affordable Care Act last October, 625,000 Californians have been enrolled in health care plans, with more than 1.2 million Californians enrolling in the state’s Medicaid program, Medi-Cal, according to Time. Despite the state’s progress in implementing the new health care options, a significant part of California’s population is still without health care: its undocumented immigrants.
California State Senator Ricardo Lara aims to address the issue through his introduction of his Health For All Act, which would grant every Californian access to health care regardless of immigration status, according to the Sacramento Bee. Though the bill is well-intentioned in its aim to address the lack of health care among the undocumented population, it only provides a short-term solution and fails to acknowledge the potential economic burden to the state.
In the past few years, California has made great strides in its efforts to expand the rights and accessibility of services of the state’s undocumented immigrant population. Last October, Gov. Jerry Brown signed legislation granting undocumented immigrants the right to receive driver’s licenses. Three months later, the California Supreme Court ruled that undocumented immigrant Sergio Garcia could receive a California law license. Furthering the rights of undocumented immigrants through the expansion of health care seems like a logical next step.
But it’s not that simple.
Arguments in favor of the bill’s passage point to the potential economic incentives, particularly in regard to saving money spent on emergency room services for preventable treatments. Lara said that by providing undocumented immigrants with health care, the state could ultimately save the $1.4 billion it spends annually on emergency care to those without insurance, according to the Los Angeles Times. What Lara fails to acknowledge, however, are the economic repercussions that providing health care for California’s approximately 3 million uninsured residents would have on the state.
The final wording of the Affordable Care Act does not allocate federal funds to finance coverage for undocumented immigrants. As such, there would be no federal reimbursement from the federal government, leaving the burden of picking up the cost to Californians themselves. With no current projection on how much the bill would ultimately cost, it is unlikely that such an unclear bill would pass — especially with the absence of federal funding. With the threat of recession and other fiscal challenges (notably the significant funding being dedicated to California’s significant drought issues), committing to a deal with an unforeseen economic burden on the state is simply not realistic.
Granting undocumented immigrants access to driver’s licenses and health care are all major strides in the effort to expand the rights and liberties of undocumented immigrants. They are rights that should be extended to all state citizens. Attempting to grant these rights as an exception to the current laws without addressing the economic setbacks associated with them is counterproductive. As well-intentioned as bills such as Lara’s might be, they fail to address the feasibility of such an important change.
Yasmeen Serhan is a sophomore majoring in international relations. She is also the Editorial Director of the Daily Trojan. “Point/Counterpoint” runs Fridays.