California Assembly OKs Asking Feds to Allow Undocumented Immigrants Access to Covered California

Covered California enrollment fair in San Francisco's Richmond District, November 2015.  (Courtesy: Phil Ting)

The California Assembly approved a bill on Tuesday that would permit undocumented immigrants access to Covered California, the state's health insurance marketplace.

Under federal law undocumented immigrants are barred from any of the benefits of the Affordable Care Act.

Senate Bill 10 would direct California to ask the federal government for a waiver that would permit undocumented immigrants the option to buy insurance on Covered California -- with their own money. It passed by a vote of 54-19.

California would be the first state to make such a request.

“This waiver will allow an estimated 390,000 immigrants who earn an income too high to qualify for Medi-Cal to purchase healthcare through the exchange under the Affordable Care Act," said Sen. Ricardo Lara, D-Bell Gardens, author of the bill.

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Undocumented immigrants would not be eligible for subsidies. If such a waiver were ultimately approved, families with mixed status -- where some family members are undocumented and some are lawfully present -- could all be on the same health insurance plan, potentially simplifying access to finding care.

Robin Hvidston, executive director of the Claremont-based group We the People Rising, a group which advocates for strict enforcement of immigration laws, criticized the measure last month in an interview with the Los Angeles Times.

“We oppose that [bill] because that encourages illegal immigration,” Hvidston said. “It sends a message to the world that if you come to our country you will be rewarded.”

A law permitting Medi-Cal coverage for undocumented children went into effect earlier this month. An estimated 170,000 children are expected to benefit at a cost to the state of $40 million this year and $132 million annually after that.

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The bill goes back to the Senate this week for final approval before it can head to the governor's desk.

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