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Some lawmakers push for basic health care plan to cover illegal immigrants

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POSTED April 21, 2013 11:00 p.m.

SACRAMENTO  (AP) — A plan being pushed by some California lawmakers would give immigrants living in the country illegally — and legal residents who can’t afford health insurance but don’t qualify for Medi-Cal — basic low-cost health care.

The county-run program would provide an opportunity to see a doctor, get tested and receive treatment before minor health problems become severe.

Funding would come from an estimated $700 million in county savings tied to expansion of the Medi-Cal program, the newspaper said.

Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg said he supports the concept of improved care, which is being pushed for by health care, labor and immigrant groups.

“I think that people who are living in this country, working hard and pursuing (citizenship) ought to be able to care for themselves and their loved ones,” he said.

But Barbara Coe, of the California Coalition for Immigration Reform, which advocates a crackdown on illegal immigration, opposes the plan.

“It will hurt law-abiding citizens by taking money from them to fund the health care of criminals,” Coe said.

Funding for subsidizing care for immigrants who are living in or have entered the country illegally has long been a controversial topic, complicated by questions about who would bankroll it, competing spending priorities, future fiscal projections, and differing county-by-county needs, attitudes and demographics.

Gov. Jerry Brown has taken no public position on the issue, but his budget proposal does not contemplate such a move and the federal government would not subsidize it, said Toby Douglas, director of the state Department of Health Care Services.

California Endowment, a private health care foundation, is attempting to build support for the plan by bankrolling a multimillion-dollar TV ad campaign that includes immigrants questioning their access to care.

“Doesn’t it make more sense to keep us all healthy, instead of treating us after we get sick?” the TV ad says.

If lawmakers eventually agree on how to expand health care for immigrants, a key question is whether counties should be required to do so or simply offer fiscal incentives.

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