In the CNN Debate this evening, the Democratic presidential candidates endorsed a more inclusive health care system to include Californians regardless of immigration status. Secretary Hillary Clinton, Governor Martin O’Malley, and Senator Jim Webb all endorsed some form of “allowing “undocumented immigrants getting Obamacare,” including steps currently pending in the California Legislature in SB10(Lara).
With their statements, the presidential candidates provided new momentum for the actions that California has recently taken to expand coverage regardless of immigration status, and for additional steps still pending. California has taken a lead position this year in covering all children regardless of immigration status, and more–and its good for other states to follow our lead. These presidential candidates realize what Californians already know and support, that it is more efficient and effective to offer primary, preventive and specialty care on the front end rather than just expensive emergency and episodic care when it may be too late. We are pleased with the progress made this year at the state and county level and are excited by the new political and policy momentum to take additional steps next year toward a fully inclusive, more efficient and effective health system.
Statewide, health, immigrant, and community advocates are focusing next year the advancement and passage of SB10(Lara), pending legislation to cover all income-eligible adults in Medi-Cal, and to seek a federal waiver to allow all to buy insurance in Covered California with their own money. The presidential candidates made the right case for allowing immigrants to buy into the exchanges–it’s in all our interest to have people covered when they need to go to the hospital. Given that California would need federal permission to waive this unjust and counterproductive exclusion in law, the support of these candidates for federal office in hugely helpful in our efforts.
Here’s the transcript from the debate of the exchange, the only major health care issue that was discussed:
LOPEZ: “Secretary Clinton, Governor O’Malley wants to open up Obamacare to millions of undocumented immigrants and their children, including almost 90,000 people right here in Nevada. Do you?
CLINTON: Well, first of all, I want to make sure every child gets health care. That’s why I helped to create the Children’s Health Insurance Program, and I want to support states that are expanding health care and including undocumented children and others.
I want to open up the opportunity for immigrants to be able to buy in to the exchanges under the Affordable Care Act. I think to go beyond that, as I understand what Governor O’Malley has recommended, so that they would get the same subsidies. I think that is — it raises so many issues. It would be very difficult to administer, it needs to be part of a comprehensive immigration reform, when we finally do get to it.
LOPEZ: Governor O’Malley?
O’MALLEY: Juan Carlos, I think what you’ve heard up here is some of the old thinking on immigration reform, and that’s why it’s gridlocked. We need to understand that our country is stronger in every generation by the arrival of new American immigrants. That is why I have put out a policy for comprehensive immigration reform, that is why I would go further than President Obama has on DACA, and DAPA.
I mean, we are a nation of immigrants, we are made stronger by immigrants. Do you think for a second that simply because somebody’s standing in a broken queue on naturalization they’re not going to go to the hospital, and that care isn’t going to fall on to our insurance rates? I am for a generous, compassionate America that says we’re all in this together. We need comprehensive immigration reform. It’ll make wages go up in America $250 for every year…
LOPEZ: Senator Webb, do you support the undocumented immigrants getting Obamacare?
WEBB: I wouldn’t have a problem with that. Let me start by saying my wife is an immigrant. She was a refugee, her family escaped from Vietnam on a boat– her entire extended family, after the communists took over, when hundreds of thousands of people were out there and thousands of them were dying. Went to two refugee camps, she never spoke English in her home, and she ended, as I said, graduating from Cornell Law School. That’s not only American dream, that’s a value that we have with a good immigration system in place. No country.. is a country without defining its borders. We need to resolve this issue. I actually introduced an amendment in the 2007 immigration bill giving a pathway to citizenship to those people who had come here, and put down their roots, and met as a series of standards… I introduced that in 2007 — We need a comprehensive reform, and we need to be able to define our borders.
COOPER: Secretary Clinton?
CLINTON: I want to follow up because I think underneath Juan Carlos’ important questions, there is such a difference between everything you’re hearing here on this stage, and what we hear from the Republicans.
O’MALLEY: Here. Here.
CLINTON: Demonize hard-working immigrants who have insulted them. You know, I came to Las Vegas in, I think, May. Early may. Met with a group of DREAMers, I wish everybody in America could meet with this young people, to hear their stories, to know their incredible talent, their determination, and that’s why I would go further than even the executive orders that President Obama has signed when I’m president.
This debate exchange continues a year of progress policy-wise and politically on the issue.
Last week, California Governor Brown signed SB4 (Lara) which helps implement the decision in the 2015-16 state budget to expand Medi-Cal to all income-eligible children regardless of immigration status. That expansion, adopted in June but slated to start as early as May 2016, is projected to eventually cover as many as 170,000 undocumented children who are up to 266% of the federal poverty level, around $50,000 for a family of three. Specifically, SB 4 includes important reforms to ensure successful implementation of the “#Health4All Kids” effort and the seamless enrollment of eligible children. Authored by Senator Ricardo Lara, SB4 got bipartisan votes in both the California Senate and Assembly, with unanimous Democratic support but also key Republican votes as well, from Senators Cannella and Vidak and Assemblyman Chavez.
This presidential debate only bolsters the statewide #Health4All effort that has already racked up several victories this year, at the state and county levels, and provides the momentum to do more.” said Wright. Beyond the expansion to all children in Medi-Cal, the state budget also reaffirmed the inclusion of income-eligible California adults with “deferred action” immigration status, such as those who would benefit under President Obama’s administrative relief. Also this year locally, Sacramento, Contra Costa, and Monterey counties, along with the County Medical Services Program serving 35 small and rural counties, all started new pilot programs to provide limited health benefits to the remaining uninsured regardless of immigration status.
Our health system and our economy is stronger when everyone is included. While California has implemented and improved upon the Affordable Care Act to make historic reductions in the uninsured rate, we still need to take additional steps to get everyone insured. It would be very helpful for California to have a federal government that was helpful in reaching the goal of a fully inclusive health system,