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John Baackes, CEO, L.A. Care Health Plan

Time to Invest in Health Coverage for California’s Undocumented

By John Baackes
Chief Executive Officer
L.A. Care Health Plan

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Original Publish Date: June 5, 2018

The Affordable Care Act (ACA) helped more than five million Californians gain health insurance. Yet, nearly three million people in this state remain uninsured, and the majority of them, 59 percent, are undocumented adults. That’s nearly 1.8 million Californians, two-thirds of whom have lived in the United States for more than ten years, denied care simply because they were not born in this country. This must change.

In 2016, California removed immigration status as a barrier for children to get full-scope Medi-Cal coverage with the Health4All Kids legislation, but their parents are still locked out. They aren’t even allowed to buy insurance through the ACA. One in six California children have at least one undocumented parent – a parent facing the possibility of a small ailment turning into a life-threatening condition because they have can’t get preventive care.

California lawmakers want to build on the success of the Health4All Kids program, which has provided comprehensive care to more than 200,000 undocumented children. Recognizing the important role that undocumented immigrants play in the state’s workforce and economy, they have introduced legislation that would extend Medi-Cal benefits to low-income, undocumented adults. The authors say health care is a human right, and this would put the state one step closer to universal coverage.

These 1.8 million people are here, and despite comments coming out of the current White House, they are likely here to stay. Do we want them suffering or dying from treatable conditions? Do we want them resorting to much more expensive emergency room care? The proposed legislation already has critics grumbling about the cost, an estimated $3 billion a year. That amount is about the same as the uncompensated care provided by public safety net hospitals in the state each year. But it doesn’t include other costs.

The fact is, California will be stronger if everyone has access to health care. The National Immigration Law Center compiled results from numerous studies that showed access to insurance:

Who could argue against that? We are investing in the health of our state when we invest in health coverage for all residents, regardless of immigration status.

John Baackes is the CEO of L.A. Care Health Plan, the largest public health plan in the country, serving more than 2 million members.

Opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily the opinions of the California Healthcare News.