Imelda Plascencia had her first gallstones attack in 2008. In the middle of the night, a sharp pain struck the side of her body.
At the hospital, Plascencia, a UCLA student at the time, waited for 24 hours before she was attended by a doctor. Coming from a low-income undocumented family without health insurance, Plascencia returned home with just painkillers because she could not afford further treatment.
“Because I didn’t have insurance, even though I was able to identify my illness, I didn’t have the resources for a cure,” said Plascencia, who is the project coordinator of health initiatives at the UCLA Labor Center’s Dream Resource Center. “This enduring with temporary remedies is something very common in our community.”
Last week, Plascencia traveled with community health advocates and other immigrant and undocumented youth more than 600 miles around California to build support for a bill that aims to provide health insurance to undocumented individuals.
State Senator Richard Lara’s, D-Huntington Park/Long Beach, California Senate Bill 1005, also known as the Health for All Act, would expand the Affordable Care Act to all residents regardless of immigration status. Under the bill, low-income immigrants would be eligible for Medi-Cal, while others will be able to purchase health insurance through Covered California.
The activists set off from the UCLA Labor Center in a 12-seat mini-van dubbed the “CARE-van” for the nine-day journey, which took them down to San Diego and up to Sacramento, their final stop. The CARE-van’s travelers arrived at the state capitol on April 30 to rally and voice support for the bill at a Senate committee hearing.
“Health is a human right,” said Betzabel Estudillo, health policy coordinator at the California Immigrant Policy Center who traveled with the CARE-van. “To have healthy communities, we need healthy people and to do that, we need to include everyone in a system with health equality for all.”
Last Wednesday, the bill passed the Senate Health Committee by a 6-1 vote. All Democrats present voted in support of the bill, and the only dissenting vote came from Senator Mike Morrell, R-Rancho Cucamonga.
According to the Senate’s bill analysis, the only organization that opposes the bill, Californians for Population Stabilization, said that subsidizing insurance for individuals who have entered the country illegally would divert resources away from other pressing problems.
The bill now has to go through the Senate Appropriations Committee, said Jesse Melgar, spokesman for Lara’s office. If it passes, it will move on to the second round of hearings where the process is repeated.
No information about the potential costs of the bill for the state is currently available, Melgar said. Researchers from UCLA and UC Berkeley are working on models that would produce data on the cost of the bill and its predicted benefits.
Of the estimated 2.3 million undocumented individuals in California, about 1 million do not have health insurance.
Covered California, the health care exchange marketplace set up by the state government under Obamacare, rolled out last year. Since then, about 1.4 million people have signed up for health insurance through the exchange platform. Another estimated 1.9 million low-income individuals have signed up for Medi-Cal.
Undocumented immigrants are excluded from state health insurance because of their immigration status. At UCLA, however, all students – including those who are undocumented – are required to have health insurance, purchased from the school or otherwise.
Since a large proportion of undocumented immigrants in the U.S. are young adults, expanding the Affordable Care Act to them may improve the pool of persons insured. The bill might lower the financial risks for insurance companies because young people are generally healthier and incur relatively lower costs for health care, said Steven Wallace, associate director of the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research and chairperson of the UCLA Department of Community Health Sciences.
Wallace said that giving health care access to undocumented people may also assist in disease prevention, cutting health care costs for the state in the long term.
But the bill would not ensure access to health care for everyone. For some low-income individuals, even the cost of subsidized insurance is too expensive, he added.
If the bill passes it is uncertain how long it will take to go into law. Bills usually take two to three years to be implemented, Wallace said.