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California Democrats are urging President Obama to expand healthcare coverage to immigrants living in the state illegally.
Although the 2010 Affordable Care Act (ACA) explicitly bars undocumented immigrants from buying health plans on the state's insurance exchange, the Democrats want the administration to approve a waiver — enacted this summer by California state lawmakers — to overturn that prohibition.
Not only would the expansion improve health in the state, they argue, it would save taxpayer dollars by encouraging preventive care instead of more expensive trips to emergency rooms.
"Nobody who lives and works here, documented or not, should have to wait until a treatable illness becomes life-threatening before seeking care," Rep. Judy Chu (D-Calif.), who heads the Congressional Asian Pacific-American Caucus, said Wednesday during a press briefing outside the Capitol.
"That's not only immoral, it's expensive."
Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-Calif.) delivered a similar message, saying it is "truly unconscionable" that "the richest [country] in the world" continues to treat healthcare as "a privilege" rather than "a human right."
"Expanding healthcare access for undocumented residents is the moral and ethical thing to do, and it is the wisest choice we can make from an economic standpoint," she said.
During the months-long debate preceding passage of the ACA, many Democrats had pushed to grant those in the country illegally access to healthcare plans on the insurance exchanges created by the law.
Republicans killed the idea, but Democrats were successful in creating a system of "state innovation waivers," which empowered local governments to adopt new coverage strategies if they could demonstrate the changes wouldn't negatively affect the law's patient protections, coverage and cost-containment goals.
It's that program — known as Section 1332 — that California lawmakers are hoping to tap to expand coverage to undocumented immigrants, who would gain access to the state's healthcare exchange but would not be eligible for taxpayer subsidies.
"It's going to cost taxpayers nothing — not one penny," Roybal-Allard said.
An estimated 17,000 people living illegally in California would benefit from the change.
California Gov. Jerry Brown (D) signed the bill into law in June, and state lawmakers are poised to submit their waiver request — the first of its kind in the country — to the Obama administration this month.
California state Sen. Ricardo Lara (D), who sponsored the waiver law, said state lawmakers have been in "fruitful" discussions with administration officials since July, leaving him optimistic about the waiver's prospects.
"They haven't given us any indication [of their verdict]," Lara said Wednesday, "but we remain very hopeful."
The timing of a final decision is unclear, but Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) said she's not expecting a drawn-out process.
"We expect a prompt answer, because they're well aware of it," Lofgren said Wednesday.
California Democrats are hoping not only that the expansion is approved but also that it becomes a national model.
"That is what the rest of the country should do," said Rep. Xavier BecerraXavier BecerraButtigieg has high name recognition, favorability rating in Biden Cabinet: survey Overnight Health Care — Presented by Emergent Biosolutions — Boosters for all The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by ExxonMobil - House to vote on Biden social spending bill after McCarthy delay MORE (Calif.), chairman of the House Democratic Caucus.
On Monday, California's entire Democratic delegation wrote a letter to Jacob Lew, the Treasury secretary, and Sylvia Mathews Burwell, who heads the Health and Human Services Department, urging their approval.
"Our entire community benefits when we ensure that everyone in California has access to comprehensive health coverage benefits," the Democrats wrote.
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