In 2010, the Affordable Care Act (ACA) was enacted into law – a historic milestone in terms of increasing access to health care coverage for millions of Americans across the country. The ACA transformed health care by creating a health insurance marketplace or “exchange” (known as Covered California in our state), consumer protections, subsidies for insurance plans, and expansion of the Medi-Cal program. But despite significant achievements of the ACA, health insurance remains out of reach for far too many.
In California, an estimated 3-4 million individuals will be uninsured even after all the pieces of ACA are fully rolled out. Among those who remain without health coverage, 1 million of them are uninsured because of their immigration status. This is, in large part, due to restrictions in the ACA that prevent undocumented immigrants and DACA-recipients from qualifying.
So, why should we care about providing access to health insurance for immigrants?
One reason is that it saves the state money. Each year, it costs the state $1.3 billion to provide health care services to those who do not have insurance. Part of the reason why that price tag is so great is because those without insurance often cannot afford preventive care. Access to preventive care keeps people healthier by providing regular check-ups and screenings, and early diagnosis of health problems ensures those problems can be treated before they become severe and more expensive. Increasing access to insurance will also alleviate the burden on already-stretched emergency services that those without insurance currently rely on.
It’s also the right thing to do – income and immigration status should not determine how healthy you are.
To address this issue, earlier this year, State Senator Ricardo Lara introduced the Health for All bill (SB 1005). This legislation would expand access to health coverage for all Californians. While some undocumented immigrants can obtain some coverage through Medi-Cal, this is limited to pregnancy and emergency medical care. (But DACA recipients can get full-scope Medi-Cal, if they meet income requirements.) SB 1005 will allow individuals to enroll in Medi-Cal or purchase insurance through a new health benefit exchange if they otherwise qualify but are currently ineligible simply because of their immigration status. As a result of tremendous mobilization efforts across the state, the bill made significant headway in the state legislature. And while it stalled in the Senate, the momentum continues.
By ensuring everyone has access to health care, we can improve the health of our entire community. All Californians benefit when we’re healthy – let’s keep the drumbeat for Health for All strong.