Cash-strapped California will ring in the new year by offering free health care to all undocumented immigrants who qualify for the state’s government-run health insurance program.
The state, which faces a $68 billion deficit in the next fiscal year, has been steadily expanding access to its Medi-Cal health insurance program for low-income residents, allowing undocumented children to qualify for the taxpayer-funded program in 2015, then expanding it under Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom to cover undocumented adults between the ages of 19-25 and those over 50.
On Jan. 1, California will become the first state to offer free health care to all qualifying individuals — regardless of immigration status or age.
In May, Democrats in the California Legislature celebrated the budget deal struck by Newsom and state lawmakers that led to the latest Medi-Cal expansion, which will see some 700,000 undocumented immigrants, ages 26-49, obtain full coverage under the program.
“This historic investment speaks to California’s commitment to health care as a human right,” state Sen. María Elena Durazo (D-Los Angeles) said at the time.
“This is a game-changer,” said Assemblyman Miguel Santiago (D-Los Angeles).“It’s one of the most important pieces of legislation that’s gonna go through this house because the ability to give health care means the ability to live life without pain.”
However, some health care experts worry that expanding the program is unwise given unprecedented state revenue shortfalls and health care shortages.
“The expansion was a bad idea when the state’s coffers were flush. Now that California is struggling to make ends meet, using taxpayer money to cover non-citizens is simply irresponsible,” Sally Pipes, a health care policy expert and the president and CEO of the Pacific Research Institute, a California-based think tank, told The Post.
“Many on Medi-Cal are already having a hard time finding doctors to treat them because of low reimbursement rates these doctors receive from the government,” Pipes added. “If those on Medi-Cal can find a doctor, they are facing very long waits for care.”
Simon Hankinson, a border security and immigration expert with the Heritage Foundation, said in a social media post that he expects the federal government to eventually bail out the program.
“No surprise [California], despite budget deficit, will give illegal immigrants subsidized health care,” Hankinson wrote on X. “The question is how and when they’ll get the federal taxpayer to bail them out. NY, IL, and MA want to know.”
The California Senate Republican Caucus has also criticized the expansion of the health plan.
“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 in response to Newsom’s budget proposal last year.
The latest Medi-Cal expansion will come at a cost of $2.6 billion per year.