Lately, there’s been a wave of change sweeping through California, granting increased privileges and rights to undocumented immigrants. In September 2013, the state assembly voted 55-19 to allow the state’s undocumented immigrants the right to receive drivers’ licenses. In October 2013, Gov. Jerry Brown signed a law allowing them to obtain law licenses. A bill proposed earlier this month seeks to extend health insurance to this population, according to the Sacramento Bee.
Though this bill might seem unfair to legal citizens whose tax dollars will most likely go to paying for this coverage, it has practical reasons that will benefit the state in the present.
Proposed by Sen. Ricardo Lara, this bill’s justification lies first and foremost in the unique demographics of California. The National Review reports that of 38 million residents, 2.5 million are undocumented immigrants. Of these 2.5 million people, 1 million are uninsured. These statistics mean that for this undocumented population, there are many uncompensated visits to the emergency room and low-cost clinics.
With President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act, the federal payments to healthcare providers that carry out a lot of uncompensated care to the uninsured will be reduced. In theory this works because under the ACA, fewer providers will need compensation as more Americans are insured. Yet for California, a state that has a large and ever-growing undocumented population, hospitals and clinics will not be getting adequate compensation or the federal financial support they need to operate on the expected quality level that patients deserve.
Under legislation called the Health for All Act, this bill will allow undocumented immigrants to qualify for Medicaid coverage paid fully by the state, thus presenting a much-needed solution to inadequate compensation and consequent inefficiency of the state’s health care system. If passed, the bill would offer two options for undocumented Californians seeking health care coverage. For those whose incomes are under 138 percent of the poverty level — about $32,000 a year for a family of four — Medi-Cal will be extended. For those who make more, there will be an insurance exchange. Lara said that the bill would relieve overcrowding in emergency rooms and reduce the state cost of health care due to increasing early diagnosis of problems before they become more expensive to treat, according to the National Review.
Until legislators get to planning and implementing a long-term solution to immigration issues, temporary solutions such as this bill are needed. The need to keep the system running is also fueled by the implementation of the ACA. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services website, the purpose of the act is to ensure that all Americans have access to affordable health insurance. An inefficient system that is still bogged down by uncompensated visits from the undocumented immigrant population does not satisfy that mission. Though this population is indeed undocumented, it still has a presence in the state. By providing an opportunity for these people to become insured, the system might be able to concentrate on the goal laid out early on by ACA.
Documented or not, these California residents are here in this state as members of society who are in need of medical treatment. As representatives of the state, it’s the responsibility of our state legislators to address this need.
Valerie Yu is a sophomore majoring in biological sciences and English. “Point/Counterpoint” runs Fridays.