Staff Ed: Healthcare is a human right. California is finally recognizing that.

Beginning on Jan. 1, California became the first state to offer health insurance to all undocumented immigrants under Medi-Cal, California’s Medicaid health care program. While this is a historic milestone, it’s been a long road to get here.

In a 2015 bill, only undocumented children and undocumented immigrants with pregnancy or emergency-related issues could receive health insurance under Medi-Cal. In 2019, 19- to 25-year-old undocumented immigrants were added to the program. Now, an additional 700,000 undocumented residents will become eligible for full coverage, according to California State Senator María Elena Durazo on ABC News.

Even if belated, this expansion of health care is a step in the right direction. Being provided health care is not a privilege but a right for every human, regardless of citizenship status. Americans need to realize that many of these undocumented immigrants did not choose to be here — many have been driven from their homes to find better opportunities, to feed their families, to escape instability — the list goes on. It should be our responsibility, as a relatively wealthy nation, to provide the basic right of healthcare, especially considering people may not be here by choice.

Furthermore, providing comprehensive health insurance to all undocumented immigrants has the potential to lessen future costs, as receiving preventative healthcare will make someone less likely to need future expensive emergency services.

So it’s not truly a question of whether undocumented immigrants should receive health insurance — the question is whether such a service should exist under our current system.

While Medi-Cal will receive an extra $6.6 billion in General Fund spending, according to the California Legislative Analyst’s Office, a nonpartisan fiscal organization, the program’s efficiency should be funded more as its services are expanded — a level of care that will pay off in the future with a healthier population.

However, there are those who say that this expansion is not economically feasible for California. According to the LAO, the General Spending’s 2023-24 budget
will increase by 21%, which some politicians see as a reason not to make this expansion. There will be a $1.2 billion additional cost in the first six months of the expansion of the program, and an additional $3.1 billion annually spent from then on, according to AP News.

Another concern for the expansion is that an increase
in immigrants, drawn by the health care program, could increase competition for jobs. However, immigrants actually add to the economy, according to The White House: “Most directly, immigration increases potential economic output by increasing the size of the labor force. Immigrants also contribute to increasing productivity.”

The U.S. is often described as a nation of immigrants, a melting pot; yet, when it comes down to it, many Americans are not welcoming, and the basic right of healthcare has been denied to those recent arrivals.

It is long overdue that undocumented immigrants receive access to health care. Hopefully, California is just the first state of many to take this important step.

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