Healthcare to be given to California’s undocumented immigrants

Julienne Shih / Illustrator

California passed a bill which will allow undocumented immigrants to join the Obamacare heath coverage plan. If signed into law, this bill will make California the first state to permit these immigrants to buy health insurance – a right not granted to them in the original unveiling of the Affordable Care Act.

California is a prime state to flex the muscle of accessible services for the undocumented; only last year, the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) found that the Golden State happens to be home to more undocumented immigrants than any other in the nation. That’s approximately 2.5 million people in California alone that have been legally prohibited from buying health care under the mandated Affordable Care Act.

That’s not to say they don’t still do so, just that they are left with limited sources beyond expensive private health insurance (bearing in mind that this is only an option as long as it’s not purchased through Covered California) or Medi-Cal coverage. The report cites the excruciating burden these illegal immigrants place on Californian taxpayers via costs that are predominantly educational and, you guessed it, medical.

With the American taxpayer quaking in their boots at the thought of millions of hardworking residents surrounding them with access to medical care, the contribution that this expansion of the Affordable Care Act would make to the economy is often overlooked. The generally negative attitude toward this expansion has flourished under the misinformed pretense that it would cost the American taxpayer so much more. A FAIR report presented in November 2014 claimed that this extension of the ACA would cost the American taxpayer “billions of dollars.”

Claims like this can’t be made without the acknowledgement that undocumented people are also taxpayers who contribute to the economy every year. ThinkProgress.org calculated that between 2000 & 2011, “undocumented immigrants contributed $2.2 and $3.8 billion more than they withdrew annually to a Medicare program known as the Hospital Insurance Trust fund. Unauthorized immigrants generated an average surplus of $316 per capita to the trust fund, while other Americans generated a deficit of $106.”

This math was broken down to simplistically lay out the many government programs to which undocumented immigrants contribute to – including Social Security and Medicaid – which they themselves (including those whom are not using a valid Social Security number or won’t stay in the country long-term) will not benefit from.

Even if we were to sidestep the fact that undocumented immigrants are contributing far more money towards the national health care system than many taxpayers care to admit – the claim that allowing them to buy access to health insurance via Obamacare would fall on the taxpayer forgets that the taxpayer is already paying for these immigrants’ healthcare – in the way of emergency room visits. In another FAIR report, the total cost of emergency room visits for undocumented immigrants came up to an annual $10.7 billion.

Since hospital emergency rooms are barred from rejecting patients based on their insurance status, the bills stacked up after these last-resort services are often subsidized at the federal and state level, driving up costs for these services for everyone.

Elizabeth Whitman of International Business Times points out, “…if [immigrants] develop chronic illnesses like diabetes that go undetected or untreated because of a lack of health insurance, the cost of treatment would be far higher down the road.”

By allowing immigrants access to health insurance, they could get these problems diagnosed and treated at early stages, thus minimizing the cost overall.

Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.), a long-time immigration reform supporter defended this concept when he introduced the bill. Gutierrez said in a speech to the House floor on September 30, “As a nation, we all benefit when we spread the risk, invite younger, healthier workers to join our exchanges, reduce the costs of compensating hospitals for caring for the uninsured and reducing the number of uninsured who live and work here.”