May 28, 2015 

By Thandisizwe Chimurenga 

LAWT Contributing Writer 


Millions of Californians could actually be “covered,” for health care that is, if Senate Bill 4 (SB 4), the ‘Health for All Act of 2015’ sponsored by California State Senator Ricardo Lara (D-Bell Gardens), passes.  The bill, scheduled to go before the Appropriations Committee at the end of this month, would expand access to health care for all Californians whether they are legal immigrants or not. Currently, undocumented immigrants are excluded from obtaining health insurance under the Affordable Care Act,  known within the state as Covered California. The bill continues the Senator’s efforts to address the exclusion of undocumented Californians from the state’s health care exchange.


California is estimated to have close to two million undocumented immigrants who are without health insurance; 1.5 million of those could qualify under Medi-Cal, the state’s low-income/uninsured health program, were it not for their status.


“Access to health care is a human rights issue and until everyone is included, our work is unfinished,” said Senator Lara in a press statement earlier this month. “I look forward to working with a broad coalition of immigrant, health care and legislative advocates to achieve the goal of health for all in the coming year.”


State Senator Connie Leyva (D-Chino), who sits on the Sen. Appropriations Committee, represents Chino, San Bernardino and portions of Pomona, Rialto and Montclair and is also in support of the bill. Leyva says the measure would be a boon to all Californians as well as extending the human right of affordable healthcare to those most in need.


“I understand that there are those who feel if you are in this country illegally you should not have that right but we have a broken immigration system and until that is fixed, all immigrants should be able to have access to quality health care,” said Leyva.


Fact sheets compiled by USC’s Dornsife Center for the Study of Immigrant Integration estimate that around 70 percent of “working age” – 25 to 64 years old – undocumented immigrants lack health insurance coverage in South Los Angeles.  Working age, according to the fact sheets, is interpreted to mean “those under 25 years of age are more likely to be covered by their parents and those older than 64 qualify for Medicare.”


State Senator Holly Mitchell (D-Los Angeles) who represents much of South Los Angeles, is a co-sponsor of the bill and has voted in support of it in committee but has not made any public statements on the bill yet.


Tia Oso, an organizer with the Black Alliance for a Just Immigration (BAJI), echoed Sen. Leyva’s comments that the new law would be of benefit to all Californians.  “It means increased health and safety for everybody when there aren’t large groups of people being denied health care services, which improves public health overall,” said Oso.


BAJI is an education and advocacy group comprised of African Americans and black immigrants from Africa, Latin American and the Caribbean.  According to the organization’s website, “it was founded in April 2006 in response to the massive outpouring of opposition of immigrants and their supporters to the repressive immigration bills then under consideration by the U.S. Congress.”


Oso, who coordinates BAJI’s Black Immigration Network, while supportive of the new law is also cautious. 


“I’m mindful if the implementation of the law, if passed, will include Black immigrants. Often the details of how these policies are carried out exclude immigrants from African and Caribbean countries due to technical issues or lack of outreach,” said Oso.


Some Black immigrants like Jameelah think the bill is a great effort. Jameelah came to Los Angeles from Belize with her family at the age of 10.  She turned 39 this year and just became documented six months ago. In spite of her status, she is still currently without health insurance. She recalled how frustrating and time-consuming it was to comply with needed medical requirements in order to receive her documented status from the Immigration and Naturalization Service. Jameelah was eventually able to get assistance from a free clinic and the health service at the community college she attends.


“There were all these hoops I had to jump thru, because I didn’t have a primary care physician I could just call up and it was very frustrating and time consuming … so … the fact that they are contemplating giving undocumented people health insurance [sounds] great to me.”

Category: Health