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Decision Time Coming for Legislation Providing Care to Undocumented

The Senate Committee on Appropriations yesterday passed a bill that would provide medical benefits to many of the roughly one million undocumented immigrants in California.

Under the revised version of SB 4 by Sen. Ricardo Lara (D-Bell Gardens) — known as the “Health 4 All” bill — coverage would not be offered to all immigrants but the state would extend full-scope Medi-Cal benefits to low-income undocumented immigrants under age 19.

The cost estimate for the full expansion under Lara’s bill has been pegged at between $280 million to $740 million, but that estimate should go down significantly with the scaled-down proposal.

Gov. Jerry Brown (D) made it clear when he unveiled his May budget revision proposal that there was no room in the budget for much new spending on health care.

“Medi-Cal used to cover 8 million people [in California]. Now it covers 12 million. That’s gigantic!” Brown said.

When asked directly if he would sign SB 4 if it made it to his desk, Brown basically said he wouldn’t sign it.

“Unless you want me to fool people and say, ‘Yeah, we’re going to spend the money.’ … People have to be able to think ahead a little bit … and realize you don’t have the money.”

Advocates say the budget is a negotiation, and the governor will give on some things — and that possibility includes health coverage for the undocumented.

“Our health system is stronger if all Californians are included in coverage,” said Anthony Wright, executive director of Health Access California. “While this bill now costs a fraction of last year’s effort,” he said, “it still would be transformational in both helping individual families and improving our health system overall.”

Next step for the bill is a floor vote, which is expected next week, in advance of the June 5 deadline to pass bills out of their house of origin. After that, it would head to the Assembly. A governor’s signature on the bill is something that legislators and advocates would need to negotiate as part of the budget compromise. 

First things first, Wright said:

“We urge the Senate to endorse this next step for both health reform and immigrant inclusion in the next week,” he said, “both with this bill and in the budget.”

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