California Could Become the First State To Extend Healthcare Coverage to Illegal Immigrants

Statue of LibertyA new proposal in California’s state healthcare program could provide coverage to an estimated 1.4 million residents living below 138% of the federal poverty line.

The one catch?

These residents are all illegal immigrants, living undocumented in California.

If California lawmakers decide to expand the Medi-Cal program, it would provide an estimated $91 billion in healthcare services to people who aren’t allowed to sign up for the Affordable Care Act (i.e., state residents living in the U.S. illegally). According to the Los Angeles Times, a recent study by the Public Policy Institute of California found that 51% of the state’s 2.6 million undocumented workers have low enough incomes to quality for a government-funded healthcare program.

The report comes not long after Gov. Jerry Brown signed a law that allows undocumented children living in California to receive healthcare coverage; this law, which Gov. Brown signed just last month, is the first of its kind in the U.S and it has already provided healthcare coverage to an estimated 170,000 children.

Sen. Ricardo Lara (D-Bell Gardens) attempted to make that piece of legislation applicable to all undocumented workers in California, but after failing to receive enough support, the legislation was narrowed down to include only children.

And now, there’s a renewed push throughout the state to provide healthcare coverage to more low-income workers — regardless of their legal status.

The reasoning behind extending healthcare coverage to low-income residents is fairly simple: Medi-Cal, like other government-subsidized healthcare programs, covers various preventative treatment options. Preventative care, in almost every situation, is much cheaper than treating a condition after it has formed.

Heart disease, for example, is one of the leading causes of death for people over 65 (around 84% of patients 65+ with heart disease end up dying from it), although it’s a medical condition easily mitigated with early detection and treatment. Without the proper preventative treatments, however, each individual’s condition will continue advancing until the individual requires treatment in a hospital — and if that person can’t afford to pay the medical bills, the cost eventually falls on the shoulders of taxpayers.

Right now, the possibility of extending Medi-Cal still seems like a shot in the dark; even though California has a high population of undocumented residents, government-funded programs for these residents still remain controversial.

According to the Central Valley Business Times and CaliforniaHealthline, 51% of California’s illegal immigrants are living below 138% of the federal poverty level, and 36% of the entire undocumented population in California have household incomes between 138% and 250% of the federal poverty level.

For a family of four in California, an income 138% below the federal poverty line is around $33,500.

Although California has been much more welcoming towards legislation that provides aid to undocumented immigrants, this issue is still likely to be a controversial topic in 2016. According to a SC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times poll, only half of Californians believe that illegal immigrants should be eligible to receive healthcare coverage through a program like Medi-Cal.

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