Health

Immigration reform: Senator Lara re-introduces immigrant health care bill

State Sen. Ricardo Lara (D-Long Beach) introducing his Health For All Bill in February, 2014. The bill stalled in the state legislature, but on Monday, Lara re-introduced it.
State Sen. Ricardo Lara (D-Long Beach) introducing his Health For All Bill in February, 2014. The bill stalled in the state legislature, but on Monday, Lara re-introduced it.
Adrian Florido/KPCC

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On Monday, State Senator Ricardo Lara (D-Long Beach) re-introduced a bill that would extend health insurance benefits to immigrants who are living in the U.S. illegally and therefore ineligible for coverage under the Affordable Care Act.

The bill would make Medi-Cal coverage available to low-income unauthorized immigrants and provide subsidies so that higher-earning ones could buy private coverage through a Covered California-like insurance marketplace that the state would set up specifically for them.

This is the second time that Lara will try to get his bill, known as the Health For All Act, through the legislature. The bill stalled during the last legislative session because of cost concerns. Lara estimated that the Medi-Cal portion of the bill alone would have cost the state more than $350 million a year, while the subsidy portion would have cost hundreds of millions more.

But the bill’s advocates believe it has a better shot at passing this time around, in part because President Obama’s recent decision to shield millions of immigrants from deportation and allow them to work could lower the cost of the bill. 

There are an estimated 2.6 million unauthorized immigrants in California, about 1.5 million of whom are thought to be uninsured.  More than 1 million California immigrants are believed to qualify for temporary legal status under the president's executive order, and advocates expect some of them to gain jobs that will provide health insurance.

Others will qualify for Medi-Cal because unlike most states, California uses state funds to extend Medicaid coverage to unauthorized immigrants with temporary legal status.

Though Lara's staff is still working on a new cost estimate, advocates say both of these changes will reduce the number of immigrants who would need coverage under Lara’s bill.

"With some of the population potentially having more economic mobility and others potentially moving into Medi-Cal, now we have the opportunity to really move forward and make sure that we cover the remainder of the population," said Ronald Coleman of the California Immigrant Policy Center, which worked closely with Lara to draft the bill.

"Now it's time for California to step up and finish the job," Lara said in a statement.

Besides the revised cost estimates that they hope will improve the bill's prospects, advocates also believe new leadership in the legislature could ease the way for its passage. State Senator Kevin De Leon, the new senate leader, was one of the original bill’s co-authors.

Lara is discussing with legislative leaders possible mechanisms to pay for his bill, according to Lara spokesman Jesse Melgar.

When asked whether Governor Jerry Brown would support Lara's bill if it reaches his desk, a spokesman for the governor declined to comment.