California First in Care for Undocumented, UCLA Researchers Say

Undocumented immigrants get better health care in California than the rest of the country — but that’s not saying much, according to a new report released Thursday by UCLA researchers.

“California is in the lead of a very sorry pack,” said Steven Wallace, associate director of the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research and co-author of the report. “For California to stay in the lead, we need to keep innovating.”

It’s unclear how UCLA’s findings will affect SB 4 by Sen. Ricardo Lara (D-Bell Gardens), the bill to provide full-scope medical coverage to the undocumented, which cleared the Senate Committee on Health this week and now heads to Senate Appropriations.

“You could spin this either way,” Wallace said — that California is leading the nation so it doesn’t need to do more; or that coverage in all states, including California, is inadequate. “We weren’t interested in influencing policy,” Wallace said, “we wanted to know how the states are doing across the nation.”

Wallace said he thinks the strides California has made in addressing some of the needs of the undocumented community augurs well for passage of SB 4.

“If California appears to be ahead nationally, that shows both a willingness and awareness to do that,” Wallace said. And many of the concerns about those incremental advances, he said, have been proven false. “Nothing bad has happened by doing a number of these things,” he said.  

The report was a joint effort by the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research, the UC Global Health Institute and the UCLA Blum Center on Poverty and Health in Latin America.

“Most states have restrictive policies,” the report said, “and even among the few [states] with higher scores, there are more opportunities for policymakers to strengthen state laws that improve the legal, social and economic environments that foster the health of undocumented immigrants.”

“It is frustrating that so many states have policies that ignore or exclude a group of people who work hard and contribute so much to our society,” Wallace said. “The neglect or outright discrimination of the undocumented does not just hurt workers and their families. It hurts the communities that rely on them for the basic labor that makes our society function.”

The report’s recommendation: State lawmakers, including those in California, need to do more to limit the federal laws restricting access to health care for the undocumented.

“None of these policies pass easily,” Wallace said. “We have come a long way from the ’90s, we have changed the political culture in the state. But it’s clear that California needs to keep its momentum in providing services for all members of the state.”

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