Lara Seeks Federal Waiver for Undocumented Californians to Purchase Health Insurance from State’s Exchange

April 07, 2015

SACRAMENTO, CA —Senator Ricardo Lara (D-Bell Gardens) today announced provisions of his 2015 Health for All Act, Senate Bill 4, to expand access to health care coverage for all Californians, regardless of immigration status. The bill will expand Medi-Cal for those who are income-eligible and directs the Department of Health and Human Services to seek a waiver from the Federal government to allow undocumented immigrants the ability to purchase insurance from state’s health care exchange, Covered California.

“The momentum to cover California’s remaining uninsured is growing and like I promised last year, I’m committed to getting this done in 2015,” said Senator Lara who chairs the powerful Senate Appropriations Committee. “No one should suffer or die from an easily treatable condition, no matter where they were born. With Health for All, we’ll help California families thrive - and set a powerful model for the nation to follow. Our state’s health and economy stand to benefit.”

The Affordable Care Act (ACA) specifically excluded undocumented immigrants from insurance coverage provided through the health care exchange known as Covered California.  Because of that, over a million undocumented residents lack access to affordable coverage in California.  Access to preventive care keeps people healthier by providing regular check-ups and screenings, and early diagnosis of health problems ensures those problems can be treated before they become overly expensive.  By ensuring everyone has access to health care, we can improve the health of our entire community, limit the overcrowding of emergency rooms, and reduce the costs of healthcare in California.

President Obama’s Executive Action to expand the deferred action program is anticipated to have a significant impact on the costs of SB 4, potentially reducing the undocumented, uninsured population in California by almost half.  An estimated 1.25 million undocumented immigrants in California may be eligible for work authorization and relief from deportation under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program and the new Deferred Action for Parents of U.S. Citizens and Lawful Permanent Residents (DAPA) program.  

Although these individuals will not be eligible for health insurance options under the Affordable Care Act, Californians who are granted DACA or DAPA will be eligible for comprehensive Medi-Cal coverage under existing state policy if they meet income eligibility requirements.

“California is again leading where the federal government is failing on immigrant integration legislation,” added Lara.

The 2015 Health for All Act does the following:

•    Expands Medi-Cal eligibility to include all individuals who meet income eligibility requirements, regardless or immigration status.

•    Directs the State Department of Health and Human Services to seek federal approval for a waiver of Section 1332 to allow undocumented Californians to purchase their own insurance through Covered California.

•    If that request is denied, SB 4 directs the state to establish a mirror exchange to provide equivalent coverage options to undocumented individuals.

Immigrant rights groups reacted positively to the measure:

•    “We applaud Senator Ricardo Lara for reintroducing Senate Bill 4 - Health4All Act. This proposal represents an extraordinary opportunity to make health coverage affordable and available for all immigrant families and children. The status quo makes emergency rooms the only option available to undocumented immigrants to obtain health care and we know that’s not only expensive but inhumane,” said Angelica Salas, Executive Director, CHIRLA.

•    “SB 4 takes a critical step forward for California’s children and families by expanding access to the affordable coverage that children need to grow up healthy,” said Corey Timpson, Executive Director of PICO California on behalf of a the Children’s Health Coverage Coalition.

•    "For the past fifteen years, I witnessed my mother struggle with her health. I saw that she had no recourse except to numb her pain with ineffective over-the-counter medications. SB4 can change the life of so many people like my mother who has the right to live a life free of pain and suffering," said Akiko Aspillaga, ASPIRE.

•    "No one should suffer or die from a treatable condition, no matter where they were born. Senator Lara's Health for All Act is a key step toward healing the unjust exclusion of undocumented immigrants from Obamacare and creating a health care system that works for all. We call upon the Governor and the Legislature to make this urgent measure a reality this year," said Reshma Shamasunder, Executive Director, California Immigrant Policy Center.

•    “Young undocumented Californians represent a significant portion of the state’s population and workforce, and will be an indispensable part of the state’s future. Yet hundreds of thousands lack access to the most basic health coverage necessary to live productive lives. Young Invincibles calls on California lawmakers to acknowledge this vital need and pass Health for All. No young Californian should face a health scare without health care,” said Gustavo Herrera, Western Regional Director at the Millennial Advocacy Group Young Invincibles.

•    "As an organization serving the Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander (AANHPI) immigrant communities for over 30 years, we have seen the critical need of health care for the more than 400,000 estimated undocumented AANHPIs, or about 15% of California's total undocumented residents.  Many have shared their tragic stories resulting from the lack of access to health coverage for themselves and their loved ones. Given the many contributions that undocumented immigrants have made to the state, it makes no sense to exclude them from our health care system. We are therefore proud to support SB 4 because it is the first step to making sure that every Californian has equitable access to health care," said Doreena Wong, Health Access Project at Asian Americans Advancing Justice - Los Angeles:

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Senator Ricardo Lara was elected in 2012 to represent the 33rd Senate District, which includes the cities and communities of Bell, Bell Gardens, Cudahy, Huntington Park, Lakewood, Long Beach, Lynwood, Maywood, Paramount, Signal Hill, South Gate, South Los Angeles, Vernon, and Walnut Park.