June 3 2019

The Sacramento Bee Influencer Series – Should California provide health care to all undocumented immigrants?


Robert Ross – President and CEO of the The California Endowment

While I understand how the question of health care for the undocumented is bound in political and ideological controversy, this is a straightforward policy issue for all of us at our foundation. We believe that ALL Californians, no matter your status, deserve access to quality health care.

There are three reasons for our straightforward, uncomplicated support of this policy position: the humanitarian reason, the public health reason, and the economic reason.

On humanitarian grounds, we believe that access to quality health care is a fundamental human right for all, and not a privilege for some.

On public health grounds – and this is tapping into my experience as a former county public health official – protecting the public’s health is an inclusive, “for all” enterprise; 90% may be great score for a high school math test – but not good enough in protecting the public’s health and safety. As recent outbreaks of the measles virus will attest, our society is playing with fire when aspects of our community are excluded from – or exempt from – public health protections. With disease outbreaks like flu, hepatitis, whooping cough, tuberculosis, or foodborne illness, you don’t want a (sizable) portion of the community marginalized from accessing needed care.

On economic grounds, for all the inflammatory rhetoric about the costs of caring for the undocumented, studies show that undocumented residents contribute far more to the California economy than any perceived taxpayer burden. The estimated taxes undocumented Californians pay into our state annually is $3.2 billion, according to the California Budget and Policy Center. Contributors to our state’s economic well-being deserve – from the standpoint of California’s social contract – access to health care, because a healthy workforce is a more productive and reliable workforce.

California’s undocumented residents are our neighbors, our schoolchildren, our families, our employers and our employees. We are morally and civically obligated to include them and all Californians in our health system, and I hope our leaders in Sacramento act to make Health For All a reality.

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