A proposal in California Governor Gavin Newsom’s proposed $286.4 billion 2022-2023 budget announced on Monday would give universal health coverage to all immigrants, regardless of current residency status.
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Currently, immigrants ages 26 and below, as well as 55 and older, can get health coverage, with the age range to be expanded this May to 50 and above following AB 133 being passed last year. According to Newsom’s proposal, immigrants in the uncovered age range would now also be covered as well, essentially giving universal healthcare to all immigrants, legal or not, starting as early as 2024.
The proposal would add at least another 700,000 illegal immigrants to state healthcare, costing an additional $2.4 billion a year.
“We said we were going to do it, said it would take a few years, we are committed to doing it,” said Newsom Monday at his press conference.
Newsom’s proposal received a mix reaction on Monday and Tuesday.
Supporters of Newsom’s plan noted that, financially, it would reduce costs over time. According to California Health and Human Services Secretary Mark Ghaly, charities, emergency services, and other sources of free health care would see resources free up over time due to immigrants now having state healthcare.
Others noted that illegal immigrants in California often make decisions not to go to hospitals out of fear of cost, of being highlighted as illegal, or afraid that they would miss work as a result. Many immigrant and immigrant advocacy groups have said that Newsom’s program would alleviate these problems and would help the economy by having a healthier immigrant workforce that would work more regurlarly due to not having more time off due to health issues.
“Today we are celebrating,” said San Diego Immigrants’ Rights Consortium Chairwoman Dulce Garcia. “We know this is not only an acknowledgment of our presence but our great contributions to California.”
“Families often ignore health problems out of fear of missing work or owing thousands of dollars in medical bills. I remember having my own father make a decision of whether or not to go to the hospital. His injury was infected when he finally showed up at the hospital and they told him it would have been amputated if he had waited any longer.”
Advocates for Newsom’s plan also noted that California healthcare coverage has had a huge gap in coverage with illegal immigrants since healthcare reforms extended coverage to most people in the mid 2010’s.
“The glaring gap was those who were left out because of immigration status,” added California Immigrant Policy Center Director of Health and Public Policies Sarah Dar on Monday.
Criticism of Newsom’s proposal
However, Newsom’s proposal has also brought criticism. Many point out that while Newsom is proposing increasing spending dramatically, in part due to a $31 billion budget surplus, the $2.4 billion a year in added healthcare costs will not be temporary or one-time spending.
“This is not how you spend a surplus,” Erin Walker, a tax advocate who has helped advise lawmakers in several states to return surplus taxes to taxpayers, told the Globe on Tuesday. “That is a permanent spending increase at a time where there are economic questions in the air. And besides, a lot of that surplus came from taxing businesses and people in the state. They deserve that money back.”
“Most of his budget plan is worrying, or comes out self-serving, like wanting to end the business tax he installed last year early. But a huge block of spending like this, permanent spending at that, is worrying to say the least.”
Many lawmakers also criticized the plan, saying that it pandered to special interests and hurt legal residents.
“Gavin Newsom sees the tax dollars of hardworking Californians as his political slush fund and legal residents as undeserving of a respite from his nonstop pandering to special interests,” said Congressman Darrel Issa (R-CA) on Monday. “The people of our state deserve so much better.”
Assemblyman Vince Fong (R-Bakersfield) agreed, adding that “The mentality that success is defined by how much is spent instead of by real, measurable, and actual results is mind boggling. Californians are living a different reality seeing problems only getting worse.”
If passed, Gov. Newsom’s immigrant healthcare proposal is expected to undergo scrutiny by other states and the Federal government and how it plays into the current immigration crisis at the U.S.-Mexico border. California would also become the first state to all immigrants regardless of legal status.
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