California advocates speed efforts to alter coverage rules for undocumented immigrants

As the Obama presidency winds down, the rush is on in California to push through a controversial proposal that would allow undocumented immigrants to access the state's health insurance exchange, Kaiser Health News reports.

State Sen. Ricardo Lara, a Democrat, is championing a bill that would allow those living in the country illegally to purchase coverage on the exchange--though without access to cost-sharing subsidies.

Because the bill now includes an urgency clause, it would require a few Republican votes to get through the California legislature, which may be attainable given state GOP leaders' desire to lure the Latino vote. Such a policy change also would need federal approval in order to alter the state's marketplace rules, as the Affordable Care Act bars undocumented immigrants from exchange coverage.

While Lara tells KHN he's confident that President Barack Obama would support the measure, another expert is not so sure, noting that public comment and federal review requirements could delay the process. What's more, the Department of Health and Human Services has been reluctant to agree to alter the ACA, believing it could set an undesirable precedent.

Yet advocates for the provision feel their chances are better under Obama than they would be in 2017, especially if Donald Trump wins the White House. Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders have said they would support undocumented immigrants accessing subsidized coverage, but it's unclear if their administrations could accomplish it.

Already, California has taken steps to extend coverage to those in the country illegally, as the state's Medicaid program will soon begin to offer benefits to undocumented children. In the past, Latino community advocates have criticized Medi-Cal for denying them equal access to healthcare.

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