Officials Say ‘Free Health Care’ for California’s Illegal Immigrants ‘Unsustainable’

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A state Assemblyman wants to revoke taxpayer funding for health care for illegal immigrants; Newsom says health care is a ‘fundamental right.’

More state and local officials in California have joined San Diego County Supervisor Jim Desmond in his call to end taxpayer-funded health care for illegal immigrants, with urgent pleas for the state and federal government to “fix the chaos” at the southern border.

In a Jan. 1 statement, Mr. Desmond said the state’s decision to provide such health care is “unfathomable,” given its $68 billion budget deficit and myriad other woes such as “a staggering homeless population, the highest gas prices in the country, exorbitant utility costs, [and] crumbling infrastructure.”

Putting the needs of non-citizens ahead of Americans “is not only incomprehensible,” but shows a “blatant disregard for the hardworking people of California,” he said.

Mayor Wells echoed the same sentiments in a statement issued Jan. 2, saying the “broken immigration system” has placed a heavy and unfair burden on border cities and is an “unsustainable approach.”

“Our state faces an array of challenges, but instead of focusing on the needs of taxpaying citizens, it is placing illegal immigrants at the front of the line, by providing free healthcare for [them],” he said. “Public assistance has ballooned to become the second biggest government expense for the County of San Diego, and the trajectory only points upwards.”

As of Jan. 1, about 707,000 individuals aged 26 to 49 in California became eligible for Medi-Cal coverage, a significant portion of whom are illegal immigrants, according to the California Department of Health Care Services.

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The expansion, which will cost about $1.2 billion, is part of California Gov. Gavin Newsom’s $310.8 billion 2023–2024 budget. The state previously expanded Medi-Cal coverage to illegal immigrant children in 2016 and to individuals under 26 in 2020, then extended it to those over 50 in 2022.
When asked at a press conference on Jan. 3 if he has considered a “rollback” of “free health care” for illegal migrants due to pushback, Mr. Newsom doubled down on the policy, stating, “I believe in universal health care.”

“I believe it’s a fundamental right and I’m proud of the fact that the legislature embraced that vision and has been advancing it since 2016 when we initiated it,” he said. “It’s well within our capacity to make that investment … and we’re going to fulfill that commitment.”

California Governor Gavin Newsom speaks in Los Angeles, Calif., on Jan. 3, 2023. (John Fredricks/The Epoch Times)
California Governor Gavin Newsom speaks in Los Angeles, Calif., on Jan. 3, 2023. (John Fredricks/The Epoch Times)

Meanwhile, Assemblyman Bill Essayli (R-Corona) on Wednesday proposed legislation, Assembly Bill 1783, that would revoke all taxpayer funding for health care for illegal immigrants in the state budget.

“It is unconscionable to spend billions of taxpayer dollars to give universal healthcare to illegal immigrants when our own citizens cannot afford their own healthcare on top of historic inflation and the highest cost of living in the nation,” he posted on X, formerly Twitter, on Jan. 3. “We cannot incentivize illegal immigration with free healthcare. We must take care of our own citizens before trying to care for the citizens of other nations.”

‘Never Seen Anything Like This’

Hundreds of illegal migrants a day are crossing the U.S.-Mexico border illegally through gaps in the border wall near Jacumba, Calif., and are held at three makeshift camps until they can be taken to a processing facility in Otay Mesa.

“If the federal government chooses to allow migrants into our country, they should foot the bill,” Mr. Desmond said. “We have never seen anything like this at our border before, and our federal government is nowhere to be found.”

In December alone, there have been over 276,000 migrant encounters at the southern border, marking the highest single month ever recorded, Mr. Desmond said.

In October, the U.S. Border Patrol logged over 760,000 migrant encounters, marking the highest single month ever recorded, he said. In November, 17 individuals on the FBI’s terror watchlist were also identified while attempting to cross the southern border.

“If the State of California had any common sense, it would halt the free health insurance program for undocumented immigrants and refocus on the pressing needs of Californians,” he said. “It is time to prioritize our residents first.”

Aside from the added Medi-Cal costs, San Diego County is paying about $1.5 million a month to South Bay Community Services, a non-governmental organization, or NGO, that provides food, shelter, and clothing to illegal migrants at a closed school in the City Heights neighborhood in San Diego according to Mr. Desmond.

More than 65,000 illegal migrants—not including those who evaded Border Patrol—have entered San Diego County in the last three months, said Mr. Wells.

“This diversion of funds is a failure of leadership and an insult to our citizens, who expect their tax dollars to address local needs,” he said. “Our state politicians have consistently advocated for policies that put those not from this country first, disregarding the concerns and well-being of our taxpaying citizens.”

Mr. Wells urged all Californians “to demand accountability from our leaders,” to end the “free health care” program for illegal immigrants.

A hospital in Garden Grove, Calif., on Dec. 20. 2023. (John Fredricks/Te Epoch Times)
A hospital in Garden Grove, Calif., on Dec. 20. 2023. (John Fredricks/Te Epoch Times)

Hospitals Affected

A doctor and a health care worker who both asked not to be named for fear of retaliation told The Epoch Times some hospitals in Southern California have been slammed with a heavy influx of illegal immigrant patients.

The influx of illegal migrants has meant that many U.S. military veterans are seeing longer wait times and have had doctor appointments pushed back for several months, according to several sources including veterans.

Robert Hammond, a cancer patient and former Marine in Santa Ana, California who was exposed to toxic chemicals in the water when he was stationed at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina, told The Epoch Times he has seen doctor appointments for veterans, including his own, pushed back for months because of the border crisis.

He questioned the Biden administration’s sense of priorities and decision to “turn its back” on American citizens, including veterans, while providing, food, shelter, clothing, money, and transportation to millions of illegal migrants.

The border crisis has also raised concerns among veterans about an agreement between the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to process reimbursements to providers for illegal immigrants’ medical care.

In December, the advocacy group Concerned Veterans for America accused the VA of “managing community care and reimbursements for unauthorized migrants while actively keeping veterans from accessing timely, quality care,” in a written statement.

“This means the VA is spending a significant portion of time and manpower managing care for noncitizens who didn’t earn it,” it said. “The problem is less about who is getting the care and more about who is not.”

A Department of Homeland Security congressional report from July 2023, “Healthcare Costs for Noncitizens in Detention,” states that ICE Health Service Corps (IHSC), a component within ICE Enforcement and Removal Operations, is “the only entity within ICE responsible for providing direct healthcare to detained noncitizens.”

The report states that IHSC provides “safe delivery of high-quality healthcare to those in ICE custody and strives to be the best healthcare delivery system in detention and correctional healthcare” and reveals ICE contracts “with the Department of Veterans Affairs Financial Services Center (VAFSC) to process medical claims reimbursements” for migrants who require health services during ICE missions, including domestic and international transfers, as well as those who are rescued or intercepted at sea by the U.S. Coast Guard.

The data shows that in 2022, that ICE provided health care services to more than 118,000 detained illegal migrants housed in 19 ICE detention facilities, amounting to more than $63.6 million in costs. It also suggests these expenses are expected to be higher for 2023.

In the 2022 fiscal year, IHSC adjudicated 47,806 medical claims payments, totaling $10.1 million, for care delivered to noncitizens in ICE custody by providers outside IHSC-staffed facilities. IHSC also processed an additional 27,791 medical claims, costing about $22.8 million, for care provided to noncitizens in Customs and Border Protection custody.

Meanwhile, total U.S. apprehensions of illegal and inadmissible aliens in fiscal year 2023—from Oct. 1, 2022, to Sept. 30, 2023—were 3.2 million. In fiscal year 2022, it was more than 2.7 million. Counting “known gotaways”—those whom Border Patrol agents record but don’t catch—more than 8 million illegal immigrants have entered the country in less than three years under the Biden administration.

According to the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), a nonprofit organization that pushes for changes in immigration policy, the cost of health care for illegal immigrants in California through Medi-Cal was approximately $4.8 billion per year in 2022.

FAIR estimated the total federal medical costs for illegal immigration at more than $23.1 billion in 2022 and pegged the costs to cover unpaid hospital bills for uninsured illegal migrants at about $8.2 billion.

The total cost of illegal immigration in California was about $22.8 billion annually for education, health care, law enforcement, criminal justice system costs, welfare, and other expenditures. By comparison, the annual cost of illegal immigration in Texas in 2022 was $9.9 billion. In California, the taxpayer cost per illegal immigrant in 2023 was $7,074, compared to $4,466 in Texas.

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