California Is the First State to Offer Health Insurance to Undocumented Migrants

By: Lauren | Published: Jan 09, 2024

California has made quite a few big changes to its policies in recent years, but the state’s latest announcement may be the most significant reform yet. 

As of Jan. 1, 2024, all immigrants lacking permanent legal status living in the state of California will receive health care through the Medi-Cal program. And this decision has ignited an intense debate among politicians and the general public. 

How Did California Handle Immigrant Health Care Before?

It’s important to note that California has, for years, offered Medi-Cal health care services to immigrants living in the state. But not for absolutely everyone. 

Close-up of logo on paper for Covered California, the State subsidized health insurance

Source: Smith Collection/Gado/Getty Images

Previously, immigrants lacking permanent legal status could receive prenatal and emergency services, and children were also eligible for any necessary health services. And in 2019, that expanded to young adults aged 19-25 and seniors over the age of 50.

What Does California’s New Law Mean for Its Residents?

According to the California Senate Republican analysis of 2022–2023, Medi-Cal, California’s version of Medicaid, already serves 14.6 million people.

Doctor’s office waiting room

Source: Freepik

And with the new admittance of all immigrants lacking permanent legal status, there will be another 764,000 people using its health care services. 

Let’s Talk Statistics

With almost a million more people in need of health care services, many wonder if the state’s system will be able to handle the influx. 

Tents belonging to un-homed people in Northern California

Source: iStock

However, there have been studies conducted that prove immigrants typically don’t use health care services as much as citizens. However, they also show that these residents are just as likely to receive preventive care such as screenings, flu shots, and vaccines.

California Plans to Spend Billions on This Plan

In order to combat the issue of overrunning the existing health care systems in place, the California Health and Human Services Agency promised to spend $835.6 million this coming year and $2.6 billion every year after. 

Frances Yasmeen Motiwalla passes the tents of homeless people at an encampment in an underpass as thousands of immigrants in Los Angeles, California

Source: David McNew/Getty Images

They believe, along with Gov. Newsom, that uninsured people and immigrants lacking permanent legal status deserve medical care, no matter how much it costs.

The First State to Offer All Health Care

Of course, California Gov. Gavin Newsom directly approved the newest variation of the law, and the Democratic leader is extremely proud of these changes and initiatives. 

California Governor Gavin Newsom giving the thumbs up during a speech

Source: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

His office released a statement last week saying, “In California, we believe everyone deserves access to quality, affordable health care coverage — regardless of income or immigration status.”


Other Politicians Agree Gov. Newsom Made the Right Call

California State Sen. María Elena Durazo explained that this new expansion of the policy will enable 700,000 immigrants in California to gain access to the health care they need and deserve. 

California State Sen. María Elena Durazo headshot

Source: Wikipedia

Durazo told the press in a statement, “This historic investment speaks to California’s commitment to health care as a human right.”


Not Everyone Thinks This Is Such a Great Idea

However, there are certainly people who wholeheartedly disagree and don’t believe Gov. Newsom’s decision was the right call for California. 

Sign advertising free influenza vaccines (flu shots) for patients with insurance coverage at Safeway supermarket, San Ramon, California

Source: Smith Collection/Gado/Getty Images

Within the California Senate Republican analysis released last year, they state that adding “more individuals to the system will certainly exacerbate current provider access problems.”


Health Care Is a Sensitive Topic

One of the major reasons why this topic is so important to people is because the state of California, as well as the country as a whole, is already experiencing issues with health care. 

Trenise Bryant joins others for a protest in front of the office of Rep. Carlos Curbelo (R-FL)

Source: Joe Raedle/Getty Images

For years, Americans have been fighting for universal or at least expanded health care for those who can’t afford the ever-increasing price tag of private insurance. And some are wondering why these immigrants are receiving free health care before American citizens. 


The Immigration Debate

And, of course, immigration is as well. There are people around the country who are arguing that immigrants lacking permanent legal status shouldn’t be allowed to stay in the United States, let alone receive free health care. 

People march on May Day, also known as International Workers Day in Los Angeles, California

Source: David McNew/Getty Images

Unsurprisingly, former president and candidate for 2024, Donald Trump, agrees with that sentiment. 


What Trump Has to Say About California’s New Health Care Policy

Even when Gov. Newsom slightly expanded the Medi-Cal umbrella to children and seniors in 2019, Trump already didn’t approve. 

Donald Trump speaks during a Roosevelt Room event at the White House

Source: Alex Wong/Getty Images

He told the press, “If you look at what they’re doing in California, how they’re treating people, they don’t treat their people as well as they treat illegal immigrants … It’s crazy. And it’s mean, and it’s very unfair to our citizens.”


The President Supports Gov. Newsom

Although President Biden has never publicly endorsed a universal health care system, he has made it his mission to lower the costs of care throughout the country. 

US President Joe Biden pauses as he delivers remarks in the East Room of the White House

Source: Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images

And many people argue that with a fellow Democrat, Biden, as president, Gov. Newsom has had the support he needed to make these controversial changes in policy. If Trump is elected in 2024, things may change for California, its citizens, and the immigrants who live there yet again.