The program is expected to add 138,000 people to Medi-Cal at a cost of $98 million a year. Previously, California had covered undocumented children and provided limited coverage for some illegal immigrant adults. California state Senator Jeff Stone (R-Temecula) spoke to Health Care Newsabout why his state should not be giving free government health care to adults in the country illegally.
Schieber: Some people argue the sales taxes and payroll deductions illegal immigrant workers pay entitle them to health care for the indigent. Would such a system be fair?
Stone: They’re paying taxes, but health care is something a lot of our citizens need and pay the same taxes as undocumented workers do. The minute you provide a strata where one group gets it for free and another group doesn’t get it for free, people are going to be attracted to where it is less expensive, and that is why the 13 or 20 million [illegal immigrant] people we have are going to take a look at what California is doing, such as Section 8 housing, low-cost housing, free health care, grants for kids into college—why wouldn’t they want to come?
You can’t blame them. Like anyone else, they want a better life for themselves and their families. My only argument is they should do it the right way and become a U.S. citizen, and apply like everyone else. No one should get in the front of the line.
We are always a nation that welcomes immigrants, but there has to be a right way to do it. Invading our border in the way that they have done it, overwhelming the border patrol and ICE, where we have 180 people being dumped—that is what it is, human beings being dumped—on the Arizona-California border where, this time of year, it gets to be about 110 degrees, with nothing more than the clothes on their back, to me, is inhumane.
It has put a big burden on local government to make sure no one dies of heat exposure; finding shelters, clothing, and medical services; and making sure everyone is immunized so we don’t have any more outbreaks of measles or whooping cough and other diseases we thought we wiped out in 2000.
If we’re going to be a country, we need to protect our borders, and we just can’t give people a free pass to take advantage of a system that is currently under significant financial and personnel stress. It inhibits our ability to provide services for people that are legitimately here when you dilute it by having hundreds of thousands of people come to garner those services with a limited amount of resources.
Schieber: The governor supported expanding health benefits to illegal adults under age 26 at a cost of $98 million. The Assembly’s plan would have cost $3.4 billion, and the Senate plan seemed to fall in between, extending free health care to low-income, undocumented seniors. This sounds like a lot of negotiating was needed.
Stone: The difference between the Senate’s plan and the Assembly’s plan was the Senate plan will cover those up to age 26 and seniors and the Assembly plan will cover all ages. That is why there was such a difference in the price tag. The governor has made it clear to many he was concerned about the $3 billion price tag because we have a lot of other needs in the state of California.
My bet is he would have vetoed the Assembly bill and (was open to) the Senate bill because he’d rather phase all this coverage in over time, especially when you see the number of people storming the borders right now.
When you say we have an open checkbook and we’re going to provide free health care to anyone, irrespective of immigration status, full Medi-Cal benefits, we have no idea how we are able to predict that is going to cost $3 billion based on the number of immigrants that we know we have in the country now. With this surge, if we don’t abate it, we could be talking 10 billion bucks. It could break the back of the state of California.
My friends on the other side of the aisle don’t seem to be concerned about that. They don’t look at tomorrow. They only look at today.
Schieber: What about California’s mandate that all residents must carry health insurance?
Stone: I brought up that hypocrisy on the floor as well. Here is the irony: Why are we taxing our citizens who can’t afford insurance $695 a person to pay the penalty of not having health insurance but we’re willing to give free insurance to hundreds of thousands of new immigrants coming into this country [illegally].
So, we’re going to charge our citizens who are struggling paycheck-to-paycheck, but if you come into the country breaking the law, we’re going to reward you with free insurance. Where is the fairness in that?
AnneMarie Schieber ([email protected]) is managing editor of Health Care News.