Senate panel backs health coverage for those in the country illegally

Senate panel backs health coverage for those in the country illegally
Senator Ricardo Lara (D-Bell Gardens), pictured during a committee hearing, wants to extend affordable health coverage to low income residents in the country illegally. (Katie Falkenberg / Los Angeles Times)

SACRAMENTO -- A proposal to have the state fund an expansion of healthcare to cover low-income residents in the country illegally was advanced Wednesday by the state Senate Health Committee.

Sen. Ricardo Lara (D-Bell Gardens) introduced SB 1005, which would use state money to expand Medi-Cal eligibility to those with an annual income of about $15,000 or less for one person but who have not been able to qualify because of their immigration status. The measure would also establish a state-run mirror exchange for undocumented immigrants to purchase health care.

People in the country illegally are prohibited from participating in the federal Affordable Care Act program providing subsidized care.

"Without a doubt this is a policy that California needs to implement," said Sen. Bill Monning (D-Carmel). "We can't have healthy communities if we exclude a segment of the workforce from healthcare."

Monning said the top areas of employment in his district are agriculture and tourism, both with large numbers of immigrant workers.

Sen. Ed Hernandez (D-West Covina), the committee chairman, voted to send the legislation to a panel on financial issues despite concern that a funding mechanism has not yet been finalized for the bill.

Lara said he is working on the premise that the bill will actually reduce the burden on taxpayers. "We know we are going to save money because we are going to get people out of the emergency rooms," he said.

While dozens of people testified in favor of the bill, nobody spoke in opposition during the hearing. The only registered opponent to the bill is a group called Californians for Population Stabilization.