Beginning in the new year, California, despite its financial constraints, plans to provide free health care to all eligible undocumented immigrants via the state-funded health insurance scheme. The state, grappling with a projected shortfall of $68 billion in the upcoming fiscal year, has been gradually broadening the scope of its Medi-Cal health insurance, designated for individuals in lower income brackets.
The program, initially made available to undocumented children in 2015, widened its reach under the Democratic Governor Gavin Newsom to include undocumented adults aged 19-25, and those above 50. By the dawn of 2022, California will step into the annals of history as the first U.S. state to present free healthcare to all eligible participants, with no discrimination based on age or immigration status.
Last May, the landmark budget agreement, championed by state Democrats, Newsom, and other legislators, heralded the most recent extension of Medi-Cal. This move aims to provide comprehensive health coverage to roughly 700,000 undocumented immigrants aged between 26 and 49.
Propelled by this move, all undocumented immigrants in California are set to qualify for gratis health care by 2024. The state’s inordinately significant outlay in health care is indicative of California’s recognition of health care as a fundamental human entitlement, according to state Senator María Elena Durazo, a Democrat from Los Angeles.
Assemblyman Miguel Santiago, another Democrat from Los Angeles, lauded the expansion of the program as a major headline. ‘The approval of this new legislation holds seminal importance,’ Santiago said. ‘Providing health care equates to allowing citizens to lead life without suffering.’
Contrarily, not everyone sees this as a good idea. Some health policy analysts caution against widening the program’s reach, citing the longstanding revenue crunch the state is experiencing, coupled with a looming inadequacy of health care resources.
Sally Pipes, president and CEO of the California-based Pacific Research Institute and esteemed health care policy expert, voiced her concerns to The Post. ‘Allocating taxpayer funds to cover non-citizens, especially when California is striving to balance its books, is simply misguided’, she stated.
Adding to the woes, Pipes mentions that several individuals on Medi-Cal already face challenges in securing physicians due to the low compensation rates doctors receive from the government. She added, ‘Those fortunate to have found a healthcare provider are often subject to lengthy delay in receiving medical attention.’
On the subject, Simon Hankinson, a border security and immigration specialist with the Heritage Foundation, anticipates the federal government will ultimately step in to save the program. He depicted his views in a social media post, ‘[California] will unquestionably resort to subsidized healthcare for illegal immigrants, regardless of the budget deficit,’ Hankinson wrote.
He further questions the timing and method of invoking federal taxpayer relief. Hankinson’s post was concluded with the thought, ‘NY, IL, and MA are equally keen to find out.’ Meanwhile, the expansion of the state’s healthcare plan remains a contentious issue with the California Senate Republican Caucus.
The caucus has expressed its disapproval citing the already overburdened Medi-Cal system that serves 14.6 million Californians, representing over a third of the state’s total population. The caucus observed that adding around 764,000 more beneficiaries would unequivocally compound the existing issues of limited provider access.
In respect to Newsom’s recent budget proposal, the caucus penned a strong reaction last year, highlighting the mounting pressure on Medi-Cal with the proposed addition of more beneficiaries.
It’s noteworthy that the most recent expansion of the Medi-Cal health coverage scheme marks a significant rise in public spending. California is slated to spend a staggering $2.6 billion annually on this initiative.
For many, this expenditure is seen as a part of California’s humanitarian effort in extending healthcare access to as many individuals as possible. However, for California’s detractors, this maneuver feels like an unwise decision amid the state’s financial strain and ongoing health care shortages.
The expansion of Medi-Cal and its subsequent economic impact have once again sparked a hotly contested debate on free health care for undocumented immigrants. As the implementation looms, it remains to be seen what the implications will be for California, with many keeping a watchful eye on how other states may follow suit.