California Becomes First State to Provide Free Health Care to Adults in the U.S. Illegally

Published June 14, 2019

The plan, to start January 1, 2020, will cover adults ages 19 to 26. It is expected to add 138,000 new people to Medi-Cal, the state’s Medicaid program, at a cost of $98 million a year., funded in part by fines on Californians who don’t buy health insurance. 

The plan is the option Gov. Gavin Newsom favored. The California State Assembly was pushing a $3.1 billion program that would have covered illegal immigrant adults of all ages, whereas the California State Senate wanted to limit benefits to adults age 65 or over.

Currently, California provides benefits to noncitizens in special circumstances such as emergency or maternity care. Undocumented immigrant children are also covered by Medi-Cal.

Dueling Priorities

Proponents of the plan argue California must extend benefits to residents regardless of citizenship if the state wants to achieve universal coverage. The California Immigrant Policy Center says undocumented adults are the single largest group within the state’s uninsured population. Without comprehensive coverage, undocumented adults will end up in costly emergency rooms, sicker, proponents say.

California state Senator Jeff Stone (R-Temecula) says that’s a false argument.

“If we secured our borders like we should, we wouldn’t have people from other countries coming here and costing our emergency rooms money and the state money to cover the expenses of these people,” Stone said. “They say, ‘We have to pay for their health service anyway, so why not just give them the medical insurance so we don’t have to inundate our emergency rooms.’ That is a terrible argument.”

Stone says California should focus on alleviating the suffering of its homeless population, the largest in the nation, which includes millions of veterans.

“We have ten-thousand homeless veterans, and the state wants to put these [undocumented] immigrants on Medi-Cal, our Medicaid program that is already dysfunctional because we have decreased the reimbursement rates to doctors,” Stone said.

Stone says the state pays doctors even less than it did before the Great Recession, about $17 per office visit.

“You can barely keep the electricity on for that, let alone hire staff to keep the office functioning at that rate,” Stone said. “So, giving these people insurance is really a false security because it is hard to see a doctor anyway in the program.”

Says It’s Unaffordable

Proponents of expanding Medicaid to undocumented immigrants say the state can afford the expense because it is currently operating with a budget surplus but California’s high taxes and government intrusions have created a stratified society of very rich and very poor classes of people, which undermines the state’s tax base, says Stone.

“The middle class has been obliterated, and that is why Texas, Nevada, Utah, Arizona, and Florida have seen such a flux of people from California who are in search of lower-cost housing, jobs, and a more affordable lifestyle,” Stone said.

Silicon Valley executives have figured this out and are moving some of their operations to states with cheaper costs, says Stone.

“These tech billionaires became wealthy because they are smart people, and the last thing they’re going to do is subsidize the costs of health care for hundreds of thousands of people,” Stone said.

Expects Budget Overruns

There is also question of whether California will be able to keep within the $98 million it is budgeting for expansion.

“No government program ever costs what government predicts it will cost,” said Sally Pipes, president and CEO of the Pacific Research Institute. She says California ought to recall its bullet train debacle and at the federal level, Medicare over the years.

“When Medicare went into effect in 1967, they predicted it would cost $3 billion in the first year and $12 billion by 1990, and it ended up costing $110 billion,” Pipes said. “Why should the taxpayers of California who work so hard have to pay even more taxes to subsidize people who are here illegally?”

Pipes says the promised benefits will attract more illegal immigrants to the state.

“[The Nobel Prize-winning economist] Milton Friedman, my mentor who wrote the foreword for my first book, said any time you provide free welfare, free health care, free education in America, especially in the state of California, people are going to come here because it is far better than if they stay home,” said Pipes.

Favoring Illegals over Citizens

Equally frustrating to opponents of the new spending is the fact that California is now fining legal residents $695 a year for not carrying health insurance.

“Why are we taxing our citizens who can’t afford insurance to pay for the penalty of not having health insurance, but we’re willing to give free health insurance to hundreds of thousands of immigrants coming into the country unlawfully?” Stone said. “We charge our citizens who are struggling paycheck to paycheck, but if you come here and break the laws, we’re going to reward you with free insurance. Where is the fairness in that?”

The number of free services offered to illegal immigrants is “appalling” when so many lower- and middle-income Californians are struggling to pay their bills, says Stone.

“I would love to add up the money we spend on those who are fleeing other countries and enter our country illegally and compare it to what we spend on the working class suffering because of what we don’t do for them.”

Ashley Herzog([email protected])writes from Avon Lake, Ohio.