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Newsom’s Proposed Medi-Cal Expansion Could Pave the Way to a Healthier California

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California Gov. Gavin Newsom announced a plan that would expand the state’s Medi-Cal program to virtually everyone in the state on Jan. 10. 

Currently, Medi-Cal is California’s health care program for low-income residents. It is currently available to those under the age of 26 and over 49, providing coverage to over 13 million Californians. Newsom’s proposed expansion would provide coverage to all California residents who meet the income requirements, regardless of age and immigration status. The expansion could potentially provide access to over 700,000 additional people

The proposed plan, if agreed upon, would be fully rolled out by January 2024 and would cost an estimated $2.2 billion annually. 

“California is poised to be — if this proposal is supported — the first state in the country to achieve universal access to health coverage,” Newsom said in a Jan. 10 budget news conference

California has long been a trailblazer in progressive policy. However, Newsom’s proposed plan would still fall short of the “single-payer healthcare” idea, which was integral to his campaign platform in the 2018 election. This means that those who do not meet the income requirements for Medi-Cal will still have to secure their own coverage. Despite the frustrating difficulty of implementing single-payer healthcare, the proposed Medi-Cal expansion must be approved. 

In recent years, California has seen a steep decline in the number of uninsured individuals primarily due to the Affordable Care Act. However, the federal expansion of health coverage leaves behind one of California’s most important demographics — undocumented immigrants. Newsom hopes to change this. 

According to a study conducted jointly by the UC Berkeley Labor Center and the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research,  nearly two-thirds of undocumented immigrants under the age of 65 lack health insurance in California. This is staggering when compared to only 10% of all other Californians in the same age range. 

Californians and Americans alike should all be working towards a healthier population. To achieve this goal, health care access should be available and affordable for everyone. Because there is undoubtedly more work to be done, California legislatures should continue pushing for a more affordable universal approach. 

Recently, CalCare, California’s proposed universal free healthcare that would leave behind premiums and deductibles, was introduced in the state assembly. However, this program has a long and difficult road to implementation. California’s more modest Medi-Cal expansion to include undocumented immigrants is a needed step toward achieving a healthier population. 

Moreover, the undocumented population largely contributes to programs such as Medi-Cal through the $3.2 billion they pay in taxes each year. By providing access to Medi-Cal, the undocumented population will finally have access to the programs they help pay for.

The need for unrestricted healthcare has never been more clear. The COVID-19 pandemic has caused disproportionate effects for undocumented individuals due to many factors. Undocumented workers are much more likely to be essential workers, with an estimated four out of five working jobs that are deemed essential and high risk for catching COVID-19. 

Americans have always relied on the contributions of undocumented immigrants — this was only made clearer when the pandemic started. As jobs were divided into “essential” and “non-essential,” Americans were forced to gain a new appreciation for those doing the jobs that are too often overlooked. The least that California can do is provide safe and secure healthcare to those who help the nation’s largest state function. 

While it is important to highlight the many ways in which undocumented immigrants contribute to our society, it is even more crucial to understand that healthcare is a human right. Immigrants must be seen as human first and foremost before they are ever considered as documented or undocumented. Their needs must be met regardless of immigration status. 

Sure, Newsom’s plan may not be the single-payer healthcare he or his supporters originally hoped for and more radical change is needed, but the magnitude of this plan must not be underestimated. It will send the message that all Californians are human and deserving of basic human rights regardless of immigration status. This plan, if agreed upon, will change lives. 

Claire Schad is an Opinion Staff Writer. She can be reached at schadc@uci.edu