State senator wants health insurance for immigrants

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KBAK/KBFX) A state senator from the Los Angeles area is planning to introduce legislation that would allow undocumented immigrants access to health insurance through Covered California.

Sen. Ricardo Lara, D-Bell Gardens, plans to introduce the legislation before a Feb. 22 deadline, a spokesman from his office said Wednesday.

"We've made enormous strides to reduce California's uninsured population with the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, but we won't have a truly healthy state until everyone has access to quality, affordable coverage," said Lara in a Jan. 10 news release. "Immigration status shouldn't bar individuals from health coverage, especially since their taxes contribute to the growth of our economy."

But, some Bakersfield residents worry about the idea and its costs.

"It doesn't sound very good to me," Jay Price said. "Taxpayers I can see, but undocumented people haven't paid into the system yet."

Salvador Partida prepares taxes in Arvin, and he said immigrants do pay in.

"I see the people that are undocumented, that you're calling undocumented or illegal people, they are paying their taxes as well as everybody else," he said.

Partida said he also works with a Los Angeles-based group called El Hermandad Mexicana, and he's familiar with the state senator's proposal.

"He wants to pass a bill that says, we're all humans, we all deserve coverage, we all work for the same things," Partida said.

Partida has some ideas on how he'd like to see health care offered to immigrants.

"I'd like for everybody to be eligible to get Medi-Cal," he said.

He said that program was designed to help people with no insurance.

Lara, who chairs the state's Latino Legislative Caucus, estimated about 1 million people in California are ineligible for Covered California because the Affordable Care Act excludes undocumented immigrants from coverage.

"California is leading the way where our federal government is failing to act," said Lara in the news release. "We made historic progress with the passage of AB 60 providing driver's licenses to undocumented residents, AB 1024 which allows Dreamers who pass the bar exam to pursue a legal profession, and the Trust Act. Now it's time to extend the most basic right of access to health care for everyone!"

Bakersfield resident Ezekiel Pinedo said he understands that first-hand.

"I have a lot of family that's illegal," Pinedo told Eyewitness News. "That would pretty much help them out."

He said his undocumented relatives are now uninsured.

"They just simply don't go to the doctor," he said.

But, Pinedo said he also has concerns about the cost of adding more people to the health care program.

"In a bigger sense, like a macro scale, I'm not sure it's the best thing," he said.

But, Partida is convinced it's important to add in the immigrants who are now left out of the health care program.

"These people are the most in need of this program," Partida said. "And they're the ones that are excluded and they should be included into the system."