A new law signed by Gov. Jerry Brown Friday cements California's expansion of public healthcare to children who are in the country illegally, underscoring the state's immigrant-friendly tilt.
The measure implements the $40 million allocated in this year's budget to provide state-subsidized Medi-Cal coverage to children aged 18 and younger who do not have legal status.
"This is a major investment that California is doing, and it's completely the reverse of what we’re seeing at the national level," said state Sen. Ricardo Lara (D-Bell Gardens), who led the healthcare expansion effort, in an allusion to the more rancorous debate over immigration occuring in the 2016 presidential campaign.
"California stands out," he said. "It says we are not going to buy in to that rhetoric that’s divisive."
Under Lara's measure, SB 4, eligible children currently receiving limited public healthcare will be automatically enrolled in full-scope Medi-Cal coverage.
The proposal initially was much more sweeping. It sought to extend health coverage to both adults and children in the country illegally, an expansion that legislative analysts estimated could cost as much as $740 million.
But the budget deal struck in June narrowed coverage to just children. Approximately 170,000 kids will be eligible for Medi-Cal when the policy goes into effect next May. After the initial $40 million, it will cost an estimated $132 million each year.
Lara said offering healthcare to immigrant children will pave the way to covering all of California's unauthorized residents.
"We can demonstrate that not only is there a need, but we can implement this succesfully," Lara said. "It's a precursor for us to getting healthcare for all in the next year or so."
A recent USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times poll found that Californians are sharply divided over providing healthcare benefits to immigrants who cross the border illegally.
According to the survey, 48% of voters believe such immigrants should be eligible for free or low-cost health insurance, while 47% of respondents opposed offering those benefits.
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