Hill Dems Push To Open CA’s Obamacare Exchange To Undocumented Immigrants

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September 14, 2016 12:23 p.m.

California Democrats on Capitol Hill are asking the Obama administration to approve a waiver that would make California the first state in the country to allow undocumented immigrants to buy health care on the Obamacare exchange.

In a letter announced Wednesday, 37 members of California’s congressional delegation asked Treasury Secretary Jack Lew and Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell to accept California’s request for a waiver that would allow the state to offer health care to an estimated 50,000 undocumented immigrants.

“Our entire community benefits when we ensure that everyone in California has access to comprehensive health coverage benefits. Billions of dollars are spent every year on uncompensated care, providing health care services to the uninsured. Enrolling people in comprehensive coverage is not only a more humanitarian approach, it is also more cost effective,” the letter read.

The letter is just the latest in the fight to expand health care coverage to California’s undocumented population. In June, California Gov. Jerry Brown signed a bill passed by the state’s legislature that allowed California’s undocumented population to buy their own health insurance on the state’s exchange, Covered California. However, a special federal waiver – a 1332 waiver– is needed before the state is allowed to enact its law.

While the law doesn’t allow immigrants to access Obamacare subsidies and has no impact on the deficit, it does reveal a political flashpoint in Washington. The question of whether to allow undocumented immigrants to access Obamacare has been a continual sticking point in both health care and immigration discussions on Capitol Hill in recent years and is sure to be seen as a slippery slope by anti-immigrant groups.

California Democrats argued during a presser Wednesday in Washington, however, that denying undocumented immigrants health care was only driving up the long term costs of health care. Without insurance coverage, many immigrants have been forced to depend on emergency services to be treated.

“Enrolling all Californians,” Rep. Zoe Lofgren (R-CA) said at the presser, “is not only a more humanitarian approach, it’s also more cost effective to ensure people have access to preventative care and wellness programs.”

That state of California is expected to submit its application for its innovation waiver later this month.

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