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California moves to expand health care for undocumented immigrants

California lawmakers moved a step closer on Tuesday to expand health care coverage for many undocumented immigrants living in the state.

California lawmakers moved a step closer on Tuesday to expanding health care coverage for many undocumented immigrants living in the state.

The state Senate passed a bill by a 28-11 vote that would provide health care coverage for children who are in the United State illegally. The new bill would offer coverage through Medi-Cal, the state’s healthcare program for low-income individuals. It would also allow undocumented immigrants in the state to buy health insurance with their own money through the state’s Covered California exchange — if the state is granted a waiver by the federal government.

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The legislation must still be approved by the state Assembly and signed by Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown. But if it does pass and the federal waiver is granted, California would become the first state in the country to allow undocumented immigrants access to health insurance from its exchange. Currently, undocumented immigrants can purchase private health insurance, but the plans are not part of the state exchanges.

State Sen. Ricardo Lara, a Democrat who spearheaded the bill, said in a statement that the Senate vote “is a transformational and decisive step forward on the path to achieving health for all.”

The initial bill, which would have allowed all undocumented immigrants to sign up via Medi-Cal, was pared down after it was estimated to cost up to $740 million a year, a price tag Brown said was unacceptable. The governor has not indicated whether or not he’ll sign off on the latest legislation. 

Critics of the legislation argue it will place a greater burden on an already strained Medi-Cal program. They claim there are currently not enough doctors who accept Medi-Cal, and that it could incentivize more illegal immigrants to come to California.

California has an undocumented immigrant population estimated at 2.6 million people, or about 7% of the state’s population.