California will become the first state to guarantee free health care to all low-income immigrants living in the country illegally, providing coverage for an additional 764,000 people at an estimated cost of $2.7 billion per year.
This move is part of a $307.9 billion operating budget signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom on June 3rd, 2022. It promises to make low-income adults eligible for the state’s Medicaid program by 2024, regardless of their immigration status. It’s a long-awaited victory for healthcare and immigration activists who have been campaigning for change for over a decade.
California is the First to take such Initiative
Through Medicaid, the federal and state governments collaborate to provide free health care to low-income adults and children across the country. However, the federal government will not pay for people who are living in the country illegally. Some states, including California, have used their own tax dollars to cover a portion of low-income immigrants’ healthcare costs.
California is set to be the first to do this. Approximately, 92 percent of Californians currently have some form of health insurance, placing the state in the middle of the pack nationally. This will change once the budget is fully implemented, as adults living in the country illegally make up one of the state’s largest groups of people without insurance.
Immigrants are gradually gaining access to health care programs. Eighteen states now provide prenatal care to people regardless of immigration status, while the District of Columbia and five states—California, Illinois, New York, Oregon, and Washington—cover all children from low-income families. California and Illinois have expanded Medicaid to include older adult immigrants.
Republicans and conservative groups in California have opposed expanding health care to illegal immigrants. According to Jon Coupal, president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, which provides free health care will make California an “attraction for those who are not legally authorized to enter the country.” He also added, “I think many of us are very sympathetic to the immigrant community, but we really wish we had better control of who enters this nation and this state.”
Medicaid expansion in California will be difficult. A confluence of events, including the state’s slow rollout of the expansion and the end of some federal pandemic policies mean that approximately 40,000 low-income immigrants will likely lose their health coverage for up to a year in 2023 before becoming eligible for it again, illustrating the difficulty of navigating the government-run health insurance system that is supposed to make it easier to get coverage.