California is set to become the first US state to extend healthcare benefits to some low-income, undocumented immigrants.
Democrats in the state legislature on Sunday agreed to make adults between the ages of 19 and 25 eligible for the state’s Medicaid programme, which provides health insurance to low-income individuals, as well as those living with disabilities. Not everyone will get those benefits, however. Only people whose incomes are low enough to qualify for the programme. State officials estimate the programme will cover an additional 90,000 people at a cost of $98m.
“California believes that health is a fundamental right,” said state Senator Holly Mitchell, a Los Angeles Democrat who led the budget negotiations.
The move continues to stake California’s position as a bulwark against the policies of Republican President Donald Trump. While the Trump administration has worked to weaken the healthcare law signed by former President Barack Obama, the budget agreement approved on Sunday and expected to pass in the state legislature later this week would strengthen California’s commitment to the law known as the Affordable Care Act.
In addition to covering some undocumented adults, California’s proposed $213bn budget would make the state the first in the country to help families earning as much as six times the federal poverty level pay for their monthly health insurance premiums. That means families of four earning $150,000 a year would be eligible for help of about $100 a month.
Taxing individuals without health insurance
But to pay for part of it, the state will begin taxing people who don’t have health insurance. It’s a revival of the individual mandate penalty that had been law nationwide under Obama’s healthcare law until Republicans in Congress eliminated it as part of the 2017 overhaul to the tax code.
Republicans on the legislative committee negotiating the budget voted against the proposal, arguing it was not fair to give health benefits to undocumented people while taxing others for not purchasing health insurance.
The budget agreement still must be approved by the full state legislature.
State law requires politicians to enact a budget by midnight on June 15. If they don’t, politicians would lose their pay. Democratic Governor Gavin Newsom has 12 days to act on the budget once politicians pass it. In a news release, Newsom said the budget initially approved by politicians on Sunday was balanced and “creates historic reserves” and said he looked forward “to continuing to work with the legislature”.
The healthcare proposals are a win for first-term Newsom, who proposed both of them. Several politicians in the Democratic-dominated state legislature wanted to go further by offering health coverage to all undocumented adults living in California. But Newsom opposed that, noting it would cost an estimated $3.4bn.