June 2, 2015
By Patrick McGreevy

The state Senate on Tuesday approved a hotly debated measure that would allow many immigrants in the state illegally to sign up for special healthcare programs that would offer the same benefits as Medi-Cal.

The action comes just days after lawmakers significantly scaled back the plan, which originally would have offered state-subsidized Medi-Cal to people in the country without authorization.

State Sen. Ricardo Lara (D-Bell Gardens) said his proposal provides “what we can realistically achieve now” for the estimated 2 million people in the state illegally.

“We are talking about our friends. We are talking about our neighbors and our families who are denied basic healthcare in the richest state of this union,” Lara told his colleagues.

The bill would allow up to 240,000 minors to sign up for Medi-Cal and allow some low-income adults to sign up for a separate program that provides the same services. Higher-income people would be able to buy non-subsidized coverage through Covered California if the federal government provides permission for them to do so.

As the son of parents who were immigrants formerly in the country illegally, Lara said many people spend long hours in emergency rooms waiting for treatment.

“Many often forgo medical care because of the fear of medical debt,” Lara said in support of SB 4.

The vote was 28-11, with most but not all Republicans opposed to the legislation, which next goes to the Assembly for consideration.

Sen. Jeff Stone (R-Murrieta) said the legislation only makes worse a shortage of physicians to treat patients on Medi-Cal. “This bill would only add hundreds of thousands of patients to the rolls with no one to care for them,” Stone said.

However, Sen. Andy Vidak (R-Hanford) said he supported the bill, saying “the taxpayers are already paying high healthcare costs for undocumented when they show up in our emergency rooms.”