Senate Passes Undocumented Health Coverage Bill After Debate
Following contentious debate on Tuesday, the California Senate voted 28-11 to approve a bill (SB 4) that would extend medical benefits to many undocumented immigrants in the state, the Sacramento Bee's "Capitol Alert" reports (Koseff, "Capitol Alert," Sacramento Bee, 6/2).
For more information on bills advanced this week by the state Legislature, see today's "Capitol Desk" post.
Details of SB 4
SB 4, by state Sen. Ricardo Lara (D-Bell Gardens), was proposed as part of a 10-bill legislative package seeking to expand health coverage, among other protections, to undocumented immigrants (California Healthline, 5/5).
The original proposal sought Medi-Cal coverage for all undocumented immigrants (Seipel, San Jose Mercury News, 6/3). Medi-Cal is California's Medicaid program.
However, under a scaled-down version of the measure, coverage would not be offered to all undocumented immigrants. Instead, the state would extend full-scope Medi-Cal benefits to low-income undocumented immigrants under age 19 (Gorn, California Healthline, 5/29).
A certain number of adults also would be eligible if more funding is included in the final state budget.
In addition, California would apply for a federal waiver to allow undocumented immigrants to buy health plans through the state exchange without subsidies ("Capitol Alert," Sacramento Bee, 6/2).
Details of Debate
Before the vote, Lara said, "We are here today trying to address this critical issue that is vital to the success of our California: ... providing care to our undocumented community" (San Jose Mercury News, 6/3).
The debate grew contentious as it touched on related topics, such as Medi-Cal and overall immigration reform, "Capitol Alert" reports.
State Sen. Jeff Stone (R-Temecula) said, "This bill would only add hundreds of thousands of more patients to the roll with no one to care for them," noting that if SB 4 "were to be signed into law, it would only serve to exacerbate the problem and not fix it" ("Capitol Alert," Sacramento Bee, 6/2).
Meanwhile, state Sen. Janet Nguyen (R-Garden Grove) -- the only senator to abstain from the vote -- said that while the bill has good intentions, it could harm current Medi-Cal beneficiaries because they already "have limited access to their health care providers."
Nguyen added that if the bill is to advance further, funding should be increased because "[i]t's wrong to enroll people into something they don't have access to" (San Jose Mercury News, 6/2).
All Democrats supported the measure, and two Republican state senators -- Andy Vidak (R-Hanford) and Anthony Cannella (R-Modesto) -- also voted in favor of the bill.
Vidak said, "Taxpayers are already paying high health care costs for the undocumented Californians when they show up in our emergency [departments" ("Capitol Alert," Sacramento Bee, 6/2).
However, Vidak also raised concerns about providers not accepting new Medi-Cal patients.
He said, "You can have all the insurance cards in the world, but if there are no doctors to see you, those cards are worthless" (Adler, "KXJZ News," Capital Public Radio, 6/2).
Meanwhile, Lara cautioned fellow state senators not to "confuse" expanding health care to undocumented immigrants with the issue of restoring cuts to Medi-Cal reimbursement rates.
The bill now heads to the Assembly Committee on Rules. According to the Mercury News, the committee likely will pass the measure, sending it to the Assembly health and appropriations committees (San Jose Mercury News, 6/3).
A state Senate fiscal review released last month estimated that SB 4 could cost California as much as $740 million annually (California Healthline, 5/5). However, Lara spokesperson Jesse Melgar said the precise cost will not be clear until a separate, soon-to-be-released analysis is made public.
Melgar added that he expects the cost to be lower than $175 million annually (San Jose Mercury News, 6/3).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.