Gov. Jerry Brown signed legislation Friday that could make California the first state in the country to allow undocumented immigrants to purchase Obamacare coverage.
The legislation directs California to negotiate a waiver with the federal government to expand coverage to a population that was intentionally carved out from Obamacare during the law’s drafting. The California proposal is sure to receive strong opposition from anti-immigration forces and could reignite a fierce health reform controversy in the Obama administration’s final months.
If the federal government approves the waiver, undocumented immigrants in California would be able to purchase exchange plans but couldn’t receive the law’s insurance subsidies. Adults still wouldn’t be eligible for expanded Medicaid coverage under Obamacare.
Proponents hope California will submit the waiver request this year, avoiding the uncertainty that would come with a new president in 2017.
However, Obama administration officials have not publicly weighed in on the proposal. Hillary Clinton has said she supports the idea — and it’s a safe bet that a President Donald Trump would reject it.
The plan’s supporters say there’s no reason undocumented immigrants should be barred from the exchanges if they can afford a plan without federal aid. The proposal, they argue, could help spur enrollment among mixed-status families — with a combination of legal residents and undocumented immigrants — who may have been reluctant to purchase health insurance because of misguided fears about deportation.
As many as 320,000 undocumented immigrants in California are projected to purchase individual health plans in 2019, according to estimates from the University of California Berkeley Center for Labor Research and Education. Many individuals would still struggle to afford Obamacare plans without the help of subsidies.