LOS ANGELES (AP) — Immigrants living in the country illegally would be able to buy health insurance through the state of California under a bill introduced by a state senator.
Only U.S. citizens can buy policies under the Affordable Care Act through health exchanges such as Covered California.
“Excluding people from access to care hurts the overall health of our communities, and does not reflect California values,” Sen. Ricardo Lara, D-Bell Gardens, said Friday at a press conference at a Los Angeles community health center.
Under the proposal, the state would set up an exchange to be run by Covered California that would cater to people in the U.S. illegally. It also proposes the state expand its Medi-Cal health plan to cover low-income people who meet income eligibility requirements but don’t qualify because of their immigration status. Both parts of the measure would be paid for with state money.
About 2 million immigrants are living in California without legal permission, the most of any state.
Imelda Plascencia moved to the U.S. from Mexico when she was 5. Plascencia, who described herself as being in the country illegally, suffers from gallstones and has waited in emergency rooms for treatment.
“My health has been declining,” the 28-year-old said at the news conference.
Immigrant advocates welcomed the bill.
“If people are given the opportunity to pay for affordable health care, they will,” Joseph Villela, director of policy and advocacy for the Coalition for Humane Immigration of Los Angeles, told the Daily News of Los Angeles. “It’s a long shot, but it is the first official bill that will seek to promote health care for all.”
Health care experts worried that the system that has supported the uninsured, including many who are in the U.S. illegally, will not be as strong as more people get coverage.
“The situation for the undocumented is not improving under the Affordable Care Act and it’s possible it will even get worse,” Steven Wallace of the UCLA School of Public Health told the Los Angeles Times.
James Scullary, a spokesman for Covered California, said he’s aware of the bill.
“Right now our focus is on implementing the Affordable Care Act as it’s currently constructed,” Scullary told the Daily News.