California law to help undocumented immigrants purchase health insurance

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A bill signed by Gov. Jerry Brown on Friday could help undocumented immigrants in California obtain health insurance through the Covered California health insurance exchange, part of the Affordable Care Act.

While the Affordable Care Act currently excludes undocumented immigrants from federal coverage options, the bill — officially termed Senate Bill 10 — allows the state to apply for a waiver from the federal government that would enable Covered California to sell insurance plans to undocumented Californians.

State Sen. Ricardo Lara, D-Bell Gardens, who wrote the bill, highlighted in a press release the importance of expanding health care coverage and, in particular, underscored California’s role in this expansion.

“This bill presents an historic opportunity for California to become the first state in the nation to request a federal waiver to allow the exchange to sell health insurance to undocumented immigrants,” Lara said in the release.

A UC Berkeley report revealed last year that as many as 1.5 million undocumented Californians are projected to stay uninsured by 2019. While many undocumented immigrants have health insurance through other means such as a job or through the private market, the report found most of these immigrants are uninsured.

Campus researcher Miranda Dietz, who contributed to the report, said the new bill is important because of its inclusive nature and added that the bill also holds symbolic value because it aims to offer health coverage regardless of immigration status. She added, however, that the bill would not allow undocumented immigrants to obtain the subsidies that Covered California provides other groups, and thus health insurance costs would remain a problem.

Juan Prieto, an undocumented student at UC Berkeley and a former staffer at The Daily Californian, said the bill was a “huge step forward” but that undocumented immigrants who were too poor to qualify for the Covered California bracket would remain excluded.

“We just need to be mindful that there’s a population that’s left out of the equation,” Prieto said.

UC Berkeley student and undocumented immigrant Benyamin Mohd Yusof said the economic status of many undocumented immigrants would make it harder for them to acquire full-price health insurance.

“Undocumented folks are usually low-income, so them not being able to qualify for the subsidies is a little unfortunate,” Yusof said.

Currently, Yusof uses health insurance offered through UC Berkeley’s Student Health Insurance Plan, or SHIP, but he is not sure about what he will do once he graduates.

SHIP offers health insurance to all students regardless of their immigration status, according to Kim LaPean, spokesperson for University Health Services. LaPean said while the bill would not have a major direct impact on UC Berkeley students, it would be a “wonderful resource” for their families.


Contact Shanzeh Khurram at [email protected].