California: low-income illegal immigrants can receive taxpayer-funded health care

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(The Center Square) – In an exchange with a state lawmaker, a California official representing the governor said any low income illegal immigrant who chooses to come to the state can receive taxpayer-funded “free” healthcare.

This comes as the state faces a $68 billion budget deficit for the coming 2024-2025 fiscal year, a number that includes $3.4 billion requested this year for expanding MediCal to cover the state’s unknown number of illegal immigrants.

During a Jan 23 budget committee hearing, State Assemblymember Bill Essayli, R–Corona, asked Chief Deputy Erika Li at the California Department of Budgets, if the approximately 300,000 individuals who entered the country illegally in December all decided to come to California, whether they would be eligible sign up for the state’s taxpayer-funded public healthcare system.

“In regards to eligibility, I don’t believe there is any requirement,” Li said, before backtracking and claiming there is an income requirement. MediCal’s income requirement is making less than 138% of the poverty level, or $20,121 for an individual or $41,400 for a typical four-member household.

Essayli also highlighted that the current MediCal system is not successfully meeting Californians medical needs.

“Combined, MediCare and Medi-Cal only pay 75 cents for every dollar it costs to care for patients. 52% of California hospitals lose money every single day they operate. One out of five of our hospitals are at risk of closure, they’re going to go bankrupt,” said Essayli. “I hear from my constituents who have Medi-Cal, they can’t get doctors’ appointments, they’re having a hard time getting procedures or seeing specialists.”

When Essayli asked if adding 700,000 new patients to MediCal, as is expected from the Jan. 1 eligibility expansion to all previously uncovered illegal immigrants, would help the system, Li said, “This governor and this legislature have been committed to expanding MediCal, and I think we need to continue having those discussions about costs.”

California recently signed an increase in the healthcare sector minimum wage to $25 per hour into law, spurring concerns that the state will face higher medical costs, especially with the estimated cost to the government of $4 billion in just the first year.

“Increasing the minimum wage to $23 per hour starting in 2024 and reaching $25 in 2026 for health care workers in medical facilities with 10,000 or more employees is fiscally irresponsible, particularly at a time when the state is facing a severe budget deficit,” said Sally Pipes, president and Thomas W. Smith Fellow in healthcare policy at the Pacific Research Center, to The Center Square. “Many on MediCal are already having a hard time finding doctors to treat them because of low reimbursement rates these doctors receive from the government. If those on MediCal can find a doctor, they are facing very long waits for care. This measure will definitely further harm those patients.”

With the state already facing a doctor shortage, and experts say increasing wages will cause doctors to employ fewer staff and take on fewer public healthcare patients, leading to longer waits for care for MediCal and MediCare beneficiaries. Adding 700,000 new patients could further extend wait times.

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