Earlier this month, Gov. Jerry Brown signed a bill that could allow undocumented Californians to obtain health insurance under the Affordable Care Act. Though it may be a largely symbolic move, it’s a step toward including undocumented immigrants in our metric of measuring the quality of life in the United States.
The federal options included in the Affordable Care Act do not include coverage for undocumented immigrants, but this bill could allow California to provide plans for these communities through Covered California if the federal government approved the waiver.
California has been somewhat hit or miss when it comes to national progressive trends. Treatment of undocumented immigrants in the state is similarly spotty — undocumented immigrants can currently apply for coverage through Medi-Cal but not Covered California — but this bill gives us hope that things are getting better.
Though undocumented students at UC Berkeley can use the campus health care, they are left without affordable options as soon as they graduate or leave campus. Health care, however, has to be something that is made regularly available for it to be effective. If a student were to come to school with health conditions that had been untreated for years, the less-than-ideal resources available on campus would probably do little to treat their conditions.
This bill could provide the families of undocumented students with security and could potentially take an emotional burden off the students themselves. Thriving in an academic environment is much more than simply showing up to class: So much of our success as students also depends on how much stress we’re exposed to outside campus. Knowing a family member was in distress would undoubtedly add exponential stress to a student’s already heavy load.
Although this bill is a step in the direction of increasing necessary resources for undocumented immigrants in this country, it doesn’t go as far as it needs to go. The provisions of the bill allow only for states to apply for a federal waiver that would include undocumented immigrants in the Covered California insurance exchange. It doesn’t guarantee that the federal government would approve these waivers.
Undocumented residents who would qualify would be unable to obtain the same subsidies as their documented peers, so the cost would still present a problem.
This bill has the potential to help bring about real change, especially if other states follow California’s lead. If enough states apply for the same waiver, it could put enough pressure on the federal government to change the law at a national level. This change would be a monumental showing of our recognition of the humanity of all of our residents, regardless of their papers.