THE BLOG
12/02/2014 10:35 pm ET Updated Feb 01, 2015

The Time Is Right for California to Extend Health Coverage for All

President Obama's new immigration actions are an important first step toward providing security for hardworking parents and their children. We commend the President on his decision, which will allow nearly five million people nationwide to no longer live in fear. And just this week, a California leader, State Senator Ricardo Lara, reintroduced a Health for All bill (SB 4) that would allow those who remain uninsured in California, even after the President's Executive Action, to obtain health coverage. With federal and state policies working together, we are closer than we have ever been to making sure that all Californians can receive health coverage.

While Obama's Executive Action won't make people newly eligible for Obamacare, we do expect an increase in health coverage for children who are eligible for Medicaid but not enrolled. Parents who were once afraid to approach the government for fear of identifying themselves for possible deportation are more likely to enroll their citizen children now that they are granted a legal status.

Over time, this may be especially true in California, the state with the largest number of undocumented immigrants. One in six children in California has an undocumented parent and as many as 80 percent of those children are estimated to be citizens-yet they likely do not have health coverage. Studies have found that children of undocumented immigrants are twice as likely to lack health insurance as children born to citizens.

The President's action will provide needed relief from these issues, but a significant percentage of those living in California will still not have access to health insurance. Senator Lara's new bill will close that gap, and reflects the fact that across the state, more than ever, Californians are in favor of expanding health care access to undocumented immigrants. By more than two-to-one, voters say helping undocumented immigrants with health care is the "right thing to do." And there is no disputing that undocumented Californians are a vital part of the state's population and economy; the estimated annual tax contribution of undocumented immigrants in California was $2.2 billion in 2010. These are parents and children who attend school and work, study in the library, play in public parks, and contribute to our community. But, unlike their neighbors, they lack access to health coverage.

The fact of the matter is there are children and youth in California that lack health insurance due to immigration status and, thus, are denied preventive and other necessary health care. Indeed, 74 percent of immigrant youth report they rely on public safety-net programs, such as emergency Medi-Cal, public hospitals, and community or county health clinics. This leads to costly consequences as California spends an estimated $1.3 billion each year providing health care services to the state's uninsured. Children with health coverage, on the other hand, get regular care that can help avoid costly and often unnecessary hospitalizations. A study of local Children's Health Initiatives programs estimated that 6,324 childhood hospitalizations were prevented over a five-year period, resulting in approximately $6.7 million in savings to the health care system. All the more reason that Senator Lara's legislation should be a top priority for the California legislature in 2015.

California has benefited tremendously from the hard work of immigrants. And it is continuing to lead the rest of the nation in improving access to health care and coverage in all communities, including families who are undocumented. With public opinion greatly in favor and policy lined up, let's finish the job and bring health coverage to all Californians.