The Epoch Times

Free Health Care for Illegal Immigrants Could Cost California Billions Per Year

By Travis Gillmore

Newly enacted state law providing free health care for all illegal immigrants residing in California could cost taxpayers between $3 billion and $6 billion per year, according to recent estimates by state and federal lawmakers.

With expectations for nearly 700,000 individuals to gain access to the new benefits, estimates vary depending on how many people enroll and the number and type of medical services covered.

More than 3.2 million illegal immigrants live in California, in addition to their more than 1.1 million U.S.-born children, according to a population study by the nonpartisan, Washington, D.C.-based Federation for American Immigration Reform.

Together, illegal immigrants and their children represent 11.1 percent of the state’s population.

Already costs to taxpayers for benefits provided to illegal immigrants for some age groups in 2023 amounted to nearly $31 billion, according to the study.

“It’s unconscionable to be spending this kind of money,” Ira Mehlman, spokesman for the immigration reform group, told The Epoch Times Jan. 16. “Especially at a time when the state is facing a $68 billion deficit.”

Gov. Gavin Newsom argues the budget deficit is closer to $38 billion, though the state’s Legislative Analyst’s Office issued a report in December with a number nearly double that amount.

Suggesting the deficit is driven, in part, by a change in demographics, Mr. Mehlman said the replacement of businesses, educated residents, and middle- and upper-class residents with illegal immigrants is impacting the state’s finances.

“California keeps incentivizing more people to come that will rely on the government while causing more and more people to leave that are high-income earners,” Mr. Mehlman said. “It’s not a sustainable model.”

Free health care for undocumented immigrants is not entirely new, though the most recent law expands access to include all ages. Prior law allowed minors to receive coverage, with subsequent measures including up to 25-year-olds and those 50 and older.

Critics, including a group of senators behind a new federal bill titled the Protect Medicaid Act, to prevent states from providing Medicaid to non-citizens—Medi-Cal in California—say California is encouraging illegal immigration by offering such benefits.

“Medicaid for migrants is a magnet for more illegal immigration,” U.S. Senator Dr. Bill Cassidy (R-La.) said in a joint press release announcing his bill Jan. 11. “This is terrible public policy for California citizens who depend on Medicaid, middle-class families paying taxes, and state debt.”

As a lawmaker with a background as a physician, he said Americans should be prioritized, with resources reserved for those most in need of assistance.

“Attempting to provide health care to everyone around the globe for free is not possible or feasible,” Dr. Cassidy said. “Compassion that cannot be sustained is not compassion.”

His newly introduced legislation is backed by several Republican colleagues who argue that their constituents are not interested in seeing their tax dollars pay for such health care plans.

“Tennesseans and the American people do not want their tax dollars subsidizing Medicaid for illegal immigrants,” Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) said in the press release. “Not only is it unfair to hard working citizens, but it incentivizes more illegal immigration and puts the care of millions of Americans on the back burner.”

Another co-sponsor of the bill suggested California has long taken advantage of federal funding to cover its progressive policies.

“California and other liberal states have gamed the system for years to provide Medicaid to illegal immigrants, which is against the law and forces Mississippi taxpayers to foot some of the bill,” Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-Miss.) said in the same press release. “The Biden border crisis and liberal policies are making the situation worse and more costly.”

Additionally, critics are concerned that adding hundreds of thousands of new patients to the state’s health care system will strain an already struggling industry.

Estimates from November 2023 indicate the Golden State needs to add nearly 1,500 primary care providers to meet current demand, before the new law took effect, according to independent health care research group KFF, previously known as the Kaiser Family Foundation.

Some state lawmakers argued against the proposal in 2022 citing similar concerns about provider shortages and noted the need to address health care system inadequacies before further jeopardizing patient access by giving non-residents free health care.

Looking to reverse the new law, Assemblyman Bill Essayli (R-Corona) introduced Assembly Bill 1783 on Jan. 3. The measure would remove all funding for illegal immigrant health care from the state budget.

He said it is imperative that tax dollars are used to benefit residents and noted the path his family and many others took to follow immigration laws when entering the country.

“Law-abiding immigrants like my parents are part of the great fabric of our state and nation,” Mr. Essayli posted Jan. 3 on X, formerly known as Twitter. “We must take care of our own citizens before trying to care for the citizens of other nations.”