According to The Los Angeles Times, children of undocumented immigrants in the United States would receive public healthcare coverage in California under a budget deal announced on June 16 by Governor Jerry Brown and the state’s legislative leaders.
There are an estimated 170,000 immigrants 18 years old and younger in California who may qualify for this proposed healthcare coverage. The controversial move by the state would be a major step for advocates and lawmakers who have worked to make California more welcoming to undocumented residents.
California’s Democratic legislative leaders gained more money for state-funded child care, preschool and dental care as well as a boost for the state’s public universities. In return for the funding of this children’s care, the legislators stepped back on the other spending they sought in order to agree to meet Brown’s revenue projection, which was about $3 billion lower than the legislative number.
The compromise paves the way for a new state budget to take effect July 1, the start of the 2015-16 year. However, there is still work remaining as the governor called for special legislative sessions to address the state’s much needed road repairs as well as public healthcare.
The healthcare coverage expansion to qualifying immigrant children would begin in May of 2016. The projected cost is $40 million in the new budget with an estimated $132 million annually after that.
According to The Los Angeles Times, the final agreement was announced a day after the Legislature approved $117.5 billion in general fund spending, $2.2 billion more than Governor Brown wanted. Continuing talks finally produced a final plan of $115.4 billion, only slightly larger than the Democratic governor’s original proposal.
The budget experienced a bit of shuffling to make the numbers work, as legislators were forced to adjust the healthcare cost estimate while adding restrictions to a scholarship program and consolidating some administrative functions. These moves freed up enough money for the state’s lawmakers to obtain higher funding in other desired areas.
The other legislative proposals that were jettisoned included a broader increase in payments to physicians who treat the needy.
Not everyone likes the state budget proposal. Republican State Senator Mike Morrell of Rancho Cucamonga said California should concentrate on paying off its debt and funding the needs of U.S. citizens.
“I wish we would concentrate on taking care of the immediate needs of our children from healthcare to education,” Morrell said.
Republican State Senator Jeff Stone of Temecula suggested it was not a fiscally smart move given a $1 billion shortfall in Medi-Cal, the state’s health care program for the poor.
“To add insult to injury, the governor and legislature added to the already financially strained system another $200 million in the next two years to pay for medical services to undocumented immigrant children in our state when we can’t even take care of children lawfully here,” Stone said.
Opponents of the budget proposal argue the extension of healthcare coverage to children of undocumented immigrants is just one more incentive to enter the United States without compliance with immigration laws. Proponents argue that the children’s health is at stake and that the extension of coverage would reduce future medical costs with preventative care..