We’re getting our mojo back in California. Solutions to big challenges may elude our leaders in Washington, D.C., but our state leads the way in implementing Obamacare and enacting meaningful immigration reforms, according to everyone from New York Times columnist Paul Krugman to comedian Bill Maher.
But there’s one area where California may be moving backwards and not forward — ensuring access to basic, preventive health services for undocumented Californians.
I’ve been fortunate to meet many young undocumented dreamers and strivers as we’ve put together our Health4All campaign. I’ve met undocumented college students who dream of being scientists and engineers and teachers. I’ve met young undocumented architects and future doctors. I even got to meet Sergio Garcia, an undocumented Californian who went to law school, passed the California bar exam and fought so that undocumented Californians can become licensed lawyers, a reform that was recently signed into law by Gov. Jerry Brown (D).
What’s remarkable about these young people is actually how unremarkable they are. There are many like them throughout California. According to the research, more than 90% of undocumented Americans work. They pay $2.7 billion in taxes to California. And they contribute $302 billion to our state’s economy.
These young people are the future of California. Our success as a state is inextricably bound to theirs. Immigrants arrive healthy and want to live responsible and healthy lives. Keeping them healthy is good for our economy. Simply crossing our fingers and hoping they’ll stay healthy, without making it easier for them to do so, is self-defeating.
And it just makes plain financial sense to allow people to access basic health care services and preventive care that provides checkups and screenings to catch problems before they become expensive crises. It might cost $30 to get a flu shot. But if that doesn’t happen and someone ends up in the hospital with influenza, we’ll pay thousands.
In the coming months, counties across California will be making important decisions about the safety-net health services they’ll provide to those who remain outside Obamacare.
Fortunately, solutions exist. Low Income Health Programs were set up a few years ago in 53 of 58 California Counties to provide a temporary way to provide care until Obamacare started. Counties can continue to use this infrastructure they’ve built to provide care to undocumented residents. Counties without Low Income Health Programs should maintain their medical indigent health care programs.
But the counties cannot do it alone. Moving forward, they’ll need new funding streams and incentives from the state. And leaders from throughout California should come together and explore a California solution to open up Obamacare and the exchanges to all Californians. Only then will the promise of Obamacare become real. Until then, our work is not done.
Once again, California needs to lead. Not follow.