California lawmakers are weighing proposals this week that would offer government-funded health care to adult illegal immigrants but are at odds over how far to go.
Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom has proposed $98 million a year to cover low-income illegal immigrants between the ages of 19 and 25, but the state Assembly’s bill would cover all illegal immigrants over the age of 19 living in California – a proposal that would cost an estimated $3.4 billion.
The state Senate, meanwhile, wants to cover adults ages 19 to 25, plus seniors 65 and older. That bill’s sponsor, Sen. Maria Elana Durazo, scoffed at cost concerns, noting the state has a projected $21.5 billion budget surplus.
Of the three million in California who don’t have health insurance, about 1.8 million are illegal immigrants, according to legislative staffers. Nearly half those have incomes low enough to qualify them for the Medi-Cal program.
The proposal comes amid another measure California lawmakers are considering, which will require everyone in the state to purchase health insurance. Those who refuse would have to pay a penalty.
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“We’re going to penalize the citizens of this state that have followed the rules, but we’re going to let somebody who has not followed the rules come in here and get the services for free. I just think that’s wrong,” Republican state Sen. Jeff Stone said about coverage of people in the U.S. illegally.
Many illegal immigrants are already enrolled in some government-funded programs, but they only cover emergencies and pregnancies.
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The Senate and Assembly will finalize their budget proposals this week before beginning negotiations with the governor.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.