After shelving a plan to provide full government health benefits to all undocumented, low-income adults in the state, California lawmakers are trying to extend coverage to seniors and the disabled in that population.
An estimated 1.8 million adult immigrants live in California without authorization, and roughly 1.2 million of them are poor enough to qualify for Medi-Cal, the state’s version of Medicaid. They can get care in emergency rooms, but a proposed new law would have provided them with full Medi-Cal benefits, including preventive care.
That idea, contained in bills by Democratic Sens. Ricardo Lara of Bell Gardens and Joaquin Arambula of Fresno, took a major hit this week when the measures were placed in the dreaded “suspense file,” where bills sit in limbo and often die. Instead, Democratic lawmakers have included a vastly scaled-back version in the ongoing budget negotiations, which will conclude in mid-June.
The original plan was estimated to cost California $3 billion a year, and Gov. Jerry Brown has signaled extreme reluctance to spend such a large portion of the state’s nearly $9 billion surplus. And billions in taxpayer funds for undocumented residents may be an especially hard sell in this election year, when state Republicans are using illegal immigration as a wedge issue, hoping to drive GOP voters to the polls to support their candidates and causes.
Democratic lawmakers are now pushing for $250 million in the next budget to cover roughly 114,000 low-income seniors and disabled residents who are undocumented.