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For Human Rights Day, Remember Health4All

Human Rights Day – celebrated on December 10 – commemorates the day the United Nations adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. So when Californians talk to their friends and family on the importance of human rights, they should note that everyone, no matter their immigration status, have a right to access affordable health coverage.


Article 25 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights declares that everyone has the right to access medical care and necessary social services for the health and well-being of himself and of his family.


The United Nations established this year’s theme as Human Rights 365, celebrating that every day is a human rights day. Access to affordable health care is not just an international right, but something that California believes in and begun to take the steps to bring access to health care to all of the state’s residents.


Over 1.4 million Californians – nearly half of the remaining uninsured in California – are ineligible for health care coverage through the Affordable Care Act due to their immigration status. California has served as a national leader on immigration rights by implementing state legislation that will allow all of the state’s residents to contribute to our state economy and communities – expanding access to drivers licenses and professional licensing and a pathway to access health care for residents with deferred status.


California’s policymakers had the foresight to craft a system that will provide access to health coverage to some of our undocumented immigrant neighbors. By creating a pathway to access care for young adults that qualify for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), the state already has the system in place to care for those impacted by the President’s recent Executive Action.


Under those existing regulations, more undocumented Californians will be able to receive the necessary tools to help improve your quality of life, including preventive services through Medi-Cal. While protecting the human rights of millions of immigrants across the country, President Obama’s recent executive action opened a pathway for some of California’s undocumented families and residents through Medi-Cal, while hundreds of thousands more are still denied the right to access affordable health coverage.


While the executive action was a step in the right direction, there is more work to be done. Undocumented Californians are dying because they are unable to access the care they need. For example, last week, New American Media reported that even though undocumented residents can donate their organs, they cannot be put on an organ recipient list.


These mothers, cousins, neighbors, and students are part of the fabric of California’s communities. To deny them the right to lead a successful, healthy life based on their immigration status is a human rights issue, is unjust, especially as Californians warmly welcome the Affordable Care Act and begin to find coverage in the second year of Open Enrollment through Covered California.


Undocumented workers in California make up nearly 9 percent of the workforce and contribute $130 billion to Californian’s GDP. In 2010, they paid $2.7 billion in taxes and $15 billion into Social Security annually, while receiving almost no social security benefits. In fact, if California were to remove all of its undocumented population, California would lose 3.6 million jobs and its economy would shrink by $302 billion.


The lack of access to coverage creates significant financial hardship and health risks for these California families. Studies have repeatedly demonstrated that the uninsured are less likely than those with insurance to receive preventive care and services for major health conditions and chronic diseases.


A recent bi-partisan survey reveals that an increasing number of Californians are in support of expanding Medi-Cal coverage, particularly preventive services, to undocumented Californians.


Fifty-four percent of Californian voters that were included in the survey believe Medi-Cal and Covered California should be expanded to all Californians, regardless of their of immigration status. Survey participants, both Democrat and Republican, believe that improving access to preventive care is crucial to reduce overall health costs and to prevent the spread of disease. And more Californians are joining in together to show their support. Over 13,000 people have signed a petition calling on California’s leaders to come together to make sure no one is denied life-saving health coverage or has to choose between putting food on the table for their family or going to see a doctor.

Denying access to care to undocumented Californians does not only preclude one from being on a donor list. Undocumented immigrants are more likely to struggle with mental health issues due to job security worries and stress about accessing care. Little is known about the health of the undocumented because they are too fearful to provide personal information—a fact acknowledged by the Federal Government.


California has led the nation in implementing the Affordable Care Act and successfully enrolled over 3.4 million Californians in health coverage in the past year and has an opportunity to expand its legacy by providing health coverage to all Californians.


California now has an opportunity to provide access to care for all and bring in those still restricted from coverage.  The President’s executive action – in conjunction with California’s existing regulations – will provide a mechanism for expanding access to quality, affordable health coverage to hundreds of thousands of undocumented Californians, but there still will be more work to be done. The program, by its nature, is limited in scope and only temporary.


Residents from around the state have shown that health care is a human right for all by demanding and utilizing a high-performing insurance marketplace and by voicing their opinions through various polls and surveys.


California still needs to finish the job and make sure all Californians have the health care they need. Recently introduced legislation will work to expand access to care for all Californians already building on successful, existing regulations and guidelines. The state continues to remind the nation that health care is a human right by attempting to find pathways for care for all.