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Immigrants who are in California illegally would qualify for health insurance under a bill Sen. Ricardo Lara plans to introduce.

Details of the plan have yet to be worked out. But Lara, a Democrat from Bell Gardens who chairs the Legislature's Latino Caucus, issued a statement today saying he intends to introduce a measure this year.

"We've made enormous strides to reduce California's uninsured population with the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, but we won't have a truly healthy state until everyone has access to quality, affordable coverage," Lara's statement says.

"Immigration status shouldn't bar individuals from health coverage, especially since their taxes contribute to the growth of our economy."

The federal Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, excludes undocumented immigrants from being able to purchase health care through the new marketplaces states created for selling insurance. After the federal health care program is completely rolled out, experts predict that 3 million to 4 million people in California -- many of them undocumented immigrants -- will not have health care.

Some California counties offer health care to undocumented immigrants, but access varies around the state. Lara aims to make health insurance available statewide, but has not yet announced exactly how the goal would be achieved. Neither a bill number nor a cost estimate were available Friday.

Health advocacy groups have been pushing the message for the last year that undocumented immigrants should be able to participate in the federal health care plans. In last year's budget fight, they advocated unsuccessfully for funding for county-level insurance for the undocumented.

PHOTO: California Senate President Pro Temp Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, speaks with Senator Ricardo Lara, D-Bell Gardens, in the Senate chambers on Monday, March 11, 2013. The Sacramento Bee/Hector Amezcua



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