California's General Assembly has passed a bill to become the first state to extend Medicaid coverage to immigrants, regardless of their status.
The bill, known as AB 2965, passed the Democratic-controlled Assembly 33-21 on Wednesday. The proposal would eliminate legal residency requirements in California's Medicaid program, known as Medi-Cal, and the state has already nixed the requirement for individuals younger than 19.
Offering full-cost coverage would cost the state $3 billion for the 2018-19 year, according to California's Legislative Analyst's Office.
The state Senate will consider the bill next, and its Democrat leaders are expected to pass the proposal.
Currently, undocumented California residents have inconsistent access to care and significantly rely on community clinics or emergency rooms.
"That's not the same as having a general practitioner or internist you see regularly," said Almas Sayeed, deputy director of programs and counsel for the California Immigrant Policy Center. "This would be a systematic way to keep communities healthy."
There are some concerns about the proposal. Policy experts question whether undocumented individuals will move to California to take advantage of the benefit and how long the state could afford such a cost without federal assistance.
Joel Hay, a health policy and economics professor at the University of Southern California, said he hasn't seen evidence that access to care for undocumented individuals is lacking in California and questioned whether the law was necessary.
"In some ways this could be political maneuver on the part of liberal, pro-immigrant politicians in this state and perhaps elsewhere," Hay said.