California's $3.1B program to provide healthcare for undocumented migrants will be paid by taxpayers

Jalyn Smoot
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California began the New Year by becoming the first state to expand its state healthcare program eligibility to include all undocumented immigrants.

Roughly 700,000 immigrants illegally residing in California will now be provided healthcare coverage by the Golden State.

The program is estimated to cost taxpayers $3.1 billion and inches California closer to its goal of providing universal health care to its roughly 39 million residents.

"This historic investment speaks to California's commitment to health care as a human right," California State Sen. María Elena Durazo said in a statement in May.

California is the most populous state to guarantee such coverage, though Oregon began doing so in July.

Before, undocumented immigrants were not qualified to receive full coverage health insurance but were allowed to receive emergency and pregnancy-related services under Medi-Cal as long as they met eligibility requirements, including income limits and California residency in 2014.

California first extended health care benefits to low-income children without legal status in 2015. Under the new plan, one of California's most ambitious coverage expansions in a decade, every undocumented immigrant between the ages of 26 and 49 will also receive full coverage.

“In California, we believe everyone deserves access to quality, affordable health care coverage – regardless of income or immigration status,” Gov. Newsom’s office told ABC News. “Through this expansion, we’re making sure families and communities across California are healthier, stronger, and able to get the care they need when they need it.”

The Golden State's plan to expand healthcare insurance to thousands of undocumented migrants does not come without detractors, though, as critics have already begun expressing concerns about the program.

California Senate Republican Caucus highlighted the state's budget deficit and questioned if now was a good time to execute such a historic policy.

"Medi-Cal is already strained by serving 14.6 million Californians – more than a third of the state's population. Adding 764,000 more individuals to the system will certainly exacerbate current provider access problems," the caucus wrote last year.

Senate Minority Leader Brian Jones also challenged the move, citing the cost.

"It will cost the state over $6.5 billion annually to provide Medi-Cal to all undocumented immigrants, according to the most recent analysis by the non-partisan Legislative Analyst Office," he told ABC News in a statement.
"Given the fact that over 300,000 undocumented migrants have crossed into California at the Mexico border in 2023 alone, the costs for this program are only going to increase from here. If Democrat politicians are the responsible leaders they claim to be, they should work with Republicans to freeze the Medi-Cal expansion for undocumented immigrants while we balance the budget."

Despite Jones' concerns over the cost, studies have shown that undocumented immigrants use fewer healthcare resources than non-immigrants.

About 50% of undocumented immigrant adults in America report being uninsured, compared to just 8% of U.S.-born citizens, according to the health policy research nonprofit KFF. This is primarily because undocumented adults are more likely to work jobs without health benefits and face federal program eligibility restrictions.

“It’s a win-win, because it allows us to provide comprehensive care and we believe this will help keep our communities healthier,” said Dr. Efrain Talamantes, chief operating officer at AltaMed in Los Angeles, the largest federally qualified health center in California.

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