By George Skelton
Los Angeles Times, April 1, 2021
It was a breakthrough event befitting Cesar Chavez Day: A major poll showed that California voters support providing tax-paid healthcare for immigrants living here illegally.
In all the polling by the nonpartisan Public Policy Institute of California over many years, it had never before found support among likely voters for giving full-blown public healthcare to undocumented immigrants.
Public attitudes toward immigrants without legal status have changed dramatically since Chavez died in 1993.
During the pandemic, people soon realized that their own health largely depended on the health of their neighbors and everyone else.
In a statewide survey, the PPIC asked California adults: “Do you favor or oppose providing healthcare coverage for undocumented immigrants in California?”
When asked of all adults, regardless of whether they were registered voters, most previously have answered that they favored providing the benefit. In this poll, 66% of all adults answered affirmatively, a 12-percentage-point increase since 2015.
And for the first time, likely voters also agreed, and by a large margin: 58% to 39%.
In the 2015 PPIC poll, the answers were reversed: Only 42% of likely voters favored providing healthcare and 55% were opposed. In a 2007 survey, 32% were in favor and 63% opposed.
In the new poll, only Republican voters continued to oppose offering the benefit — a whopping 79%.
Republicans are out of sync with the majority of Californians on many issues — one reason they haven’t elected anyone to statewide office since 2006 and now are essentially irrelevant in the Legislature with a superminority in each house.
Among Democrats, 84% favored providing public healthcare. So did 55% of independents.
Mark Baldassare, the PPIC president and pollster, believes it’s the pandemic that has quickened the acceptance of healthcare for all.
“This is the first time we’ve found likely voters thinking there should be healthcare for undocumented workers,” he says.
“I relate this to the pandemic. It’s one of the most significant changes I’ve seen during the pandemic. People are recognizing that having a healthy society requires taking care of everyone. It’s something people saw during the pandemic. That strikes me as very significant.”
Assemblyman Joaquin Arambula (D-Fresno), an emergency room physician, is pushing a bill to cover everyone by 2026.
“We call a lot of these people essential workers but don’t take care of their essential needs,” Arambula says. “We could not have our bountiful harvests if not for the undocumented workers….
“The question is whether the governor will make universal healthcare a priority.”
By Don McCanne, M.D.
Of course, this is California, the Left Coast of the United States. We have not given up on single payer. AB 1400, CalCare, is our latest attempt. Unfortunately, we have fire damage, drought, a threatened recall election, and, like the rest of the world, a COVID pandemic with all of its political difficulties for our governor, Gavin Newsom. Although he promised us single payer, he does have his hands full at the moment.
We can’t say how single payer will fare in California, but this public support for including coverage for undocumented immigrants in our health care system shows that the fundamental policies underlying the single payer model have gained traction. Unfortunately, political barriers still exist as exemplified by the opposition of 79% of Republican voters.
Support for covering undocumented immigrants may not be entirely altruistic since the recent increase in support coincided with the pandemic, and common sense tells you that providing care to everyone (vaccines, treatment, isolation, etc.) improves the odds of more rapid control, lowering the risk of personally becoming a victim. But altruism likely plays a role to some extent. For those opposed to including the undocumented in the system, there must be a lack of altruism since they are exposed as well and would gain by making the system universal. Or maybe it’s simply ideology.
We’d rather have the entire nation included under a universal system, but California will continue its efforts to move forward, hoping to be a model for the nation, just as Saskatchewan was for Canada. We can still dream of the entire nation moving smartly in unison toward Medicare for All, obviating the need for transitional state efforts. Let’s see if we can’t make that more than a dream.
Stay informed! Visit www.pnhp.org/qotd to sign up for daily email updates.