Millions of Latinos were able to secure access to medical care under Obamacare. At the same time, undocumented immigrants did not qualify under the federal expansion of coverage even if they wanted to pay out of their own pocket. Sacramento’s effort to rectify this situation deserves to be supported even though there are still a number of obstacles to overcome.
SB4, sponsored by Senator Ricardo Lara (D-Bell Gardens), proposes to extend Medi-Cal coverage to undocumented, low-income youth under 19 years of age, to expand coverage available to some adults – assuming there are funds in the state budget, and to ask for federal authorization so undocumented individuals with more financial resources can purchase medical insurance on their own.
There is no question that the proposed legislation responds to a human and economic need. Over two million undocumented individuals in California who seek medical attention through community networks and in costly emergency rooms for urgent care when, in many situations, the cases might have been preventable if they had received care earlier.
The taxes paid by the undocumented, close to $2.2 billion annually, should warrant some degree of medical coverage. The reality is that it is far cheaper for the state to have a healthy labor force that doesn’t need to make regular use of emergency rooms.
In order to achieve this goal we must address the difficulties of Medi-Cal reimbursements. More and more doctors refuse to see Medi-Cal patients because of the low reimbursements they receive from the state. Including patients will create more problems if the10% reduction in reimbursements made during the recession is not addressed.
SB4 is one of 10 bills in a legislative package that expands protections for the undocumented in California. The original bill put forward by Sen. Lara was more ambitious, but he toned down part of the measure in order to help move it through the Senate – which passed this week – and in the Assembly where it will soon be debated, and hopefully avoid a veto by the governor.
The undocumented were excluded from Obamacare because of politics. It was the price to pay to get the Affordable Care Act approved. Now it is time to fix it.