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State budget gives health care to some undocumented immigrants. Arambula wants to go further

‘Time for the individual mandate.’ How Gov. Gavin Newsom wants to expand health care

During his budget presentation in January 2019, Gov. Gavin Newsom outlined his plan to expand subsides for health care coverage to more Californians by restoring the individual mandate. He also plans to expand health care for undocumented residents.
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During his budget presentation in January 2019, Gov. Gavin Newsom outlined his plan to expand subsides for health care coverage to more Californians by restoring the individual mandate. He also plans to expand health care for undocumented residents.

Assemblyman Joaquin Arambula intends to continue pushing to expand health care options for all undocumented immigrants in California even though the state’s new $214.8 billion budget provides coverage to a fraction of them.

Arambula’s comments this week were among the first he’s made publicly since returning to work in Sacramento following his May trial in Fresno, where a jury found him not guilty of child abuse charges.

The Legislature on Thursday passed a $214.8 billion budget deal that includes $98 million to expand Medi-Cal to young undocumented adults, 19 up to 26, in the upcoming fiscal year. Gov. Gavin Newsom now has 12 days to sign or veto the bill. He can also nix parts of the budget through line-item vetoes.

The state already provides health care coverage to children under the age of 19 through legislation passed in 2016.

In early December, Arambula introduced a bill that would go further by expanding Medi-Cal coverage to all adults, regardless of immigration status.

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California Attorney General Xavier Becerra attended a roundtable at the state building in Fresno that was organized by Assemblymember Joaquín Arámbula. JUAN ESPARZA LOERA Fresno

Assembly Bill 4 made it through the Assembly, and earlier this month, was referred to the Senate’s committee on health.

But the Legislative Analyst’s Office had estimated the Medi-Cal costs to be as much as $900 million in fiscal year 2019-20. It could cost between $3 billion to $3.2 billion in general funding annually going forward, according to an Assembly Appropriations Committee analysis of the bill. There’s a companion bill in the Senate, SB 29.

Arambula said it’s estimated that one in every five residents in 31st District — which covers Fresno, Kerman, Firebaugh and Coalinga — are undocumented.

AB 4 is still moving through the legislative process, but it wasn’t included in the budget approved by lawmakers.

Despite the fact that lawmakers have already included health care for some undocumented immigrants in the budget, it’s not the end of AB 4 or Arambula’s effort to extend health care to all undocumented immigrants.

AB 4 will likely come up in policy discussions at the end of this month, and Aramubla said he will continue the debate. The bill could be amended as it continues to move forward, and Arambula said he “will work hard to get a version” through the Senate.

“But we don’t know its final version or outcome yet,” he said. “In someways, I’ve learned to take it a step at a time, and our big goal at the moment was to secure the funding for the 19-25 year-olds.”

If the bill dies this session, the lawmaker said, he’ll remain hopeful. Arambula in 2018 introduced Assembly Bill 2965, which would have also offered health care to all adults. “I plan to bring the bill back until we are able to achieve universal coverage,” he said.

The appropriations committee’s analysis estimated that out of the state’s 1.8 million undocumented adults, under AB 4 some 1.26 million of them would be eligible for Medi-Cal coverage, since income eligibility is a factor.

Securing funding to expand health care for young undocumented immigrants is a “good down payment and allows thousands of people in the Central Valley” to have access to health care — individuals who otherwise could not, he said.

“I want to be appreciative that we were able to take this first step,” he said.

Meanwhile, Arambula said he’s received a “warm reception” from his colleagues in the Capitol, and his family is also leaving the recent court case behind them. “My family is actually doing quite well — we really are,” he said.

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