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California Moves To Open Obamacare To Undocumented Immigrants

“It’s always heartening to see that our government fully understands that access to health care is really a human right," said state Sen. Ricardo Lara.

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California will be the first state in the U.S. to apply for a waiver that would allow undocumented immigrants to obtain health coverage under the Affordable Care Act.

Gov. Jerry Brown on Friday signed a bill into law authorizing the waiver application that, if granted, would allow currently ineligible undocumented immigrants to purchase their own coverage on the state-run health care exchange, Covered California.

“It’s always heartening to see that our government fully understands that access to health care is really a human right and the responsibility we have as California to lead the rest of the nation when it comes to incorporating our immigrant community,” Sen. Ricardo Lara, a Democrat from Bell Gardens who introduced Senate Bill 10, told BuzzFeed News.

While undocumented immigrants are barred from buying health care coverage under the Affordable Care Act, also referred to as Obamacare, there’s a provision that allows states to change their own laws to allow access through their own exchanges, as long as the federal government doesn't pay for it.

It makes economic sense to open the health care exchange to undocumented immigrants, he added, because it keeps emergency room and overall state healthcare costs down.

“The reality is that these undocumented immigrants not only contribute to the economy, but are not going anywhere,” Lara said.

While the Affordable Care Act is expected to reduce California’s uninsured rate by at least half, a UC Berkeley study estimated that we between 2.7 million and 3.4 million residents will remain uninsured by 2019. And up to half of those Californians remaining uninsured will be undocumented immigrants not eligible under Obamacare.

It was not immediately clear how long it would take for California's waiver application to work its way through the federal government.

Adolfo Flores is a national security correspondent for BuzzFeed News and is based in Los Angeles. He focuses on immigration.

Contact Adolfo Flores at adolfo.flores@buzzfeed.com.

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