THE BLOG

Health for All: A Proposal to Cover the Remaining Uninsured in California

04/28/2014 08:36 pm ET | Updated Jun 28, 2014

Should we deny some Californians medical care for easily treatable conditions because of where they were born?

What about the mom afflicted with diabetes whose family strains to the breaking point to pay for medications out of pocket?

Or the student who was beaten and robbed in San Francisco and needed medical treatment, but was terrified about calling an ambulance because he lacked coverage?

While the Affordable Care Act is a milestone achievement in our country that should be celebrated for providing insurance to millions, including previously uninsured Californians, it left out a critical segment of our population.

They are undocumented immigrants, an integral part of the fabric of our communities, but unable to get legal status because the federal government has failed to create a reasonable immigration process for our nation. Illogically, the Affordable Care Act has left these folks behind.

This wholesale exclusion of our neighbors, loved ones, and colleagues doesn't make any practical sense and it's up to us to set a national example and address this injustice.

California continues to lead where the federal government is failing to act because we recognize how important these individuals are to our communities and our economic future. We've led when it comes to giving talented undocumented students access to higher education, providing driver's licenses to all Californians and by ensuring that individuals who pass the state BAR Exam can practice, regardless of documentation status.

And we will continue to do so.

The Health for All Act will again place California at the vanguard when it comes to sensible, inclusive immigration policy.

The proposal, Senate Bill 1005, would move us all forward by creating a health care system that works for everyone.

Under the bill, immigrants who don't have health care would be able to pay an affordable price for health insurance in a statewide marketplace that mirrors our state's "Covered California" exchange. And just like any other hard-working Californian struggling to get by in these difficult times, low-income immigrant families would be able to get regular medical care through our state's Medi-Cal program.

Many will ask about the "dollars and cents" of this proposal. As experts prepare a detailed analysis of the bill, what's already clear is this: it's far more cost-effective - and just common sense - to prevent sickness than it is to treat it once it reaches a critical condition.

Moreover, investing in immigrant families is investing in our state. Undocumented immigrant Californians are almost 9 percent of our state's workforce. From putting food on your table to playing key roles in so many other industries, they play a major role in our state's economic vitality. In 2010 alone, undocumented immigrants contributed $2.2 billion in state and local taxes.

We're all in this together, and California is stronger when all of us have access to affordable care.

So, as Washington continues to waffle on sensible immigration measures, California's leadership is more important than ever. Let's build on the vision and promise of the Affordable Care Act and make Health for All a reality here in the Golden State. Families will thrive, the state will grow stronger, and the nation will have a new, powerful example to catch up to.

California State Senator Ricardo Lara is the author of SB 1005, the Health for All Act, and chairs the state's 24-member member California Latino Legislative Caucus. Senator Lara represents California's 33rd Senate District.