U.S., California Grapple Over Health Care for Undocumented Residents
Recent debate over whether national health care reform proposals would insure undocumented immigrants highlights a familiar issue in California, the San Francisco Chronicle reports.
Existing federal law bars undocumented immigrants from receiving federally funded health benefits.
Although both the House and Senate versions of health care reform legislation maintain this restriction, some critics say the measures should require explicit verification of citizenship.
Such discussions also are playing out in California, where advocates and policymakers are re-examining immigrant health care costs as they grapple with significant budget cuts (Colliver, San Francisco Chronicle, 9/11).
In 2006, California had about 2.8 million undocumented immigrants, or about one-quarter of the U.S. total, according to estimates from the Public Policy Institute of California.
This fiscal year, about 768,400 undocumented residents will receive emergency care through Medi-Cal, the state's Medicaid program, according to estimates from the California Department of Health Care Services. The department said the services would cost the program about $1.2 billion.
However, despite concerns about the costs of health care for undocumented immigrants, several recent studies suggest that the majority of California's uninsured population is comprised of citizens and other legal residents.
According to a recent report from the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research, about two-thirds of California's uninsured are U.S. citizens, 15% are legal residents and 20% are noncitizens without green cards (De SÃ¡, San Jose Mercury News, 9/10).
No Questions Asked
Although federal law prohibits undocumented immigrants from participating in Medicaid, states and counties are allowed to expand local health care programs to cover a broader group of residents (San Francisco Chronicle, 9/11).
For example, the state's Access for Infants and Mothers program offers care for low-income pregnant women who do not qualify for Medi-Cal. Although some participants likely are undocumented immigrants, program officials do not ask questions about immigration status.
Santa Clara County's Healthy Kids program, which insures low-income children, also does not inquire about citizenship status (San Jose Mercury News, 9/10).
Budget Cuts = Benefit Cuts
Although many California health programs previously asked few questions about immigration status, statewide budget strain has compelled some local governments to begin limiting services.
Contra Costa, Sacramento and Yolo counties all recently ended health coverage for undocumented immigrants.In addition, a Solano County grand jury recently advised the county to stop subsidizing an urgent care clinic that treats undocumented residents (San Francisco Chronicle, 9/11). 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.