Bill seeking to extend Obamacare to unauthorized immigrants sent to governor

A bill to let California seek a waiver to the Affordable Care Act and open up health coverage to unauthorized immigrants is headed to Gov. Jerry Brown.
A bill to let California seek a waiver to the Affordable Care Act and open up health coverage to unauthorized immigrants is headed to Gov. Jerry Brown.
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A bill that could let California extend health insurance under the Affordable Care Act to immigrants who are in the country illegally is on its way to the governor's office.

On Thursday, the state Senate voted 27-8 to approve SB 10, a bill that directs the state to seek a federal waiver to an existing rule barring unauthorized immigrants from purchasing coverage through Covered California, the state health exchange.

The bill, sponsored by Sen. Ricardo Lara (D-Bell Gardens), cleared the state Assembly earlier this week.

If Gov. Jerry Brown signs the bill, it clears the way for Covered California officials to apply for the waiver. The next step is up to the federal government, which would decide whether to grant it.

"If the waiver is granted, then California will officially become the first state to open up Covered California, or our version of the Affordable Care Act, to undocumented immigrants who can afford to pay for one of the health care options that we have here in this state," Lara told KPCC following the Senate vote.

Opponents have questioned the legality of extending coverage to unauthorized immigrants, and what it may cost to implement.

Proponents estimate as many as 50,000 immigrants who lack legal status might be able to buy health insurance if given the opportunity.

The waiver in question is formally known as a Section 1332 State Innovation Waiver.

These waivers to the Affordable Care Act aim to modify certain provisions, based on guidelines set by the federal Department of Health and Human Services. The idea is to let states to pursue new strategies for improving coverage for their residents.

In California's case, the idea would be to open up health coverage under Covered California to undocumented immigrants - but without subsidies, meaning they'd have to pay for their policies in full.

According to an analysis produced earlier this year by Covered California, "These non-QHPs would not be subsidized with federal premium assistance or cost sharing subsidies."

In spite of this, opponents to SB 10 have raised questions about what administrative costs there might be in implementing such an extension, and questions about its legality. 

Lara said his office has reached out to the federal government in hopes that the Obama administration will consider approving the waiver in the coming months, provided the governor signs it and the state moves forward. The bill is expected to go to Brown's office in the coming days.

A new state law, also authored by Lara, allows low-income youths under age 19 who don't have legal status to obtain full medical coverage under Medi-Cal, California's Medicaid program.