Immigrant Health Care Bill Passes Hurdle

     SACRAMENTO (CN) – Despite concerns over funding, a bill extending health care to more than a million undocumented immigrants passed its first test Wednesday, clearing the California Senate Health Committee.
     For the second straight year, Sen. Ricardo Lara, D-Bell Gardens, introduced legislation that would allow undocumented immigrants to qualify for health care through Medi-Cal or the California Health Benefit Exchange.
     Last year’s version stalled because of a $1 billion price tag, but the committee on Wednesday approved Lara’s bill unanimously, setting up a crucial financial hearing on the Senate Appropriations Committee.
     Lara testified that SB 4 is an improved version of his 2014 bill, trimmed down to reflect concerns about the cost of adding a million people to California’s health care system by eliminating some subsidies already provided to undocumented immigrants.
     The cost of SB 4 will be between $400 million and 800 million, Lara said.
     “We have made efforts to further reduce the costly impact of this proposal by making the difficult decision to cut state subsidies from the exchange for this vulnerable population,” Lara said.
     The two Republican members of the committee abstained, voicing concerns over the price of SB 4 and whether the state’s health care system could handle an influx of patients.
     Sen. Janet Nguyen, R-Garden Grove, said there is already a shortage of doctors accepting Medi-Cal patients, and that senior citizens in her district are struggling to receive preventive care.
     “I have concerns about the sustainability of our public health care system,” Nguyen said. “Today there are not enough Medi-Cal providers in the system to serve the current 12-plus million people.”
     Lara acknowledged the added pressure that a million undocumented immigrants could have on California’s health care system, but assured the committee that the same coalition looking at ways to improve the Medi-Cal system is also supporting and working on SB 4.
     If SB 4 is voted through, California will have to ask the federal government for a waiver to allow undocumented immigrants to purchase health care through Covered California, Lara testified. Taxpayers are spending $1.4 billion per year on limited health care for Californians living illegally in the state, $690 million coming directly from the state’s general fund.
     “Enrolling people in comprehensive coverage is not only a more humanitarian approach, it is also more cost-effective to ensure people have access to preventative care,” Lara said.

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