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Lawmakers for Children: Q & A with State Senator Ricardo Lara

Born and raised a local Angeleno and the son of a seamstress and factory worker, California State Senator Ricardo Lara (D-Bell Gardens) has been at the forefront of legislative action to help working families that face challenges like the ones his parents faced.

Since 2012, when he was elected to represent the Southeast Los Angeles County cities that make up the 33rd district, he’s taken on leadership roles as the Chair of the Appropriations Committee and the Chair of the Latino Caucus. His current focus is on a vigorous effort to expand access to affordable health coverage for California’s immigrant population.

This summer, Senator Lara kicked off his Health for All Statewide Community Tour, traveling from Oakland to Los Angeles to rally support for his most recent proposal, Senate Bill 4 (SB4), the Health for All Act.

"It’s imperative that we continue to invest resources, not only in prenatal services but in the early stages of a child’s development as well. That goes twofold, not only in accessing healthcare but having the appropriate educational resources so that the community understands the importance." - State Senator Ricardo Lara

SB4 recently cleared the Assembly Health Committee, expanding Medi-Cal eligibility to all children regardless of immigration status. These changes will be implemented in May 2016. For now, SB4 heads to the desk of the Appropriations Committee.

Senator Lara used his statewide tour to highlight the amended version of SB4, which includes three key goals: allowing undocumented Californians to buy health insurance with their own money through Covered California by seeking a waiver; allowing all children ages 0–19 to enroll in Medi-Cal regardless of immigration status; and expanding access to adults ages 19 and over, regardless of immigration status, by establishing a capped enrollment program through Medi-Cal.

SB 4 also ensures that children currently enrolled in restricted-scope emergency Medi-Cal be transferred to full-scope services within 30 days of the program and that children with serious medical conditions, which require specialist care, be properly evaluated and referred as they are enrolled in the new program.

We caught up with Senator Lara on the day that he culminated his statewide tour at St. John’s Well Child & Family Center in Los Angeles, where he answered several questions on the interconnectivity of health care and early childhood education issues:

Q: In pushing Senate Bill 4 forward, what is the importance in terms of prenatal services and early childhood development for children ages 0–5?

A: Several studies show the critical importance of prenatal care and providing health care in the early stages of a child’s life. Ensuring they have comprehensive health care and that mothers have the health services they need – leveling the playing field – means the world, not only for the mother but for the child.

It’s imperative that we continue to invest resources, not only in prenatal services but in the early stages of a child’s development as well. That goes twofold, not only in accessing healthcare but having the appropriate educational resources so that the community understands the importance.

This is just the beginning. California has always demonstrated to be at the forefront when it comes to investing critical resources in these provider programs. I’m proud to say we are going to continue that trajectory.

Q: What is the connection between health care for infants and young children and their achievement later on in life?

A: We know that if a child is hungry, if a child is sick, if a child doesn’t have access to comprehensive health care, they are already starting with a major deficit when it comes to achieving their dreams and achieving their educational goals.

This historic investment – in saying that every child, regardless of their immigration status, will now have access to healthcare – is a tremendous victory and it now makes California the largest state to provide this commitment to our children. This is a building block of what is one day going to become a health for all initiative, in which we cover all Californians.

We know that it’s much more costly to provide care through emergency room services. What we are proposing is not only more cost effective, it’s more humane and it is the absolute right thing to do, especially for a vulnerable community that contributes to our economic progress.

Q: What is the message you’d like to send to the First 5 LA communities around the work that you’re doing to support them in Los Angeles?

A: First of all, let me congratulate First 5 LA for the tremendous work that they’re doing. For really being in our communities and not being afraid to tackle these difficult issues. Especially in communities where, traditionally, folks don’t access government services. So already, just the presence of First 5 LA here creates a major change.

I’m very hopeful that the Assembly is going to understand the importance of SB4. We’re urging communities to come out, support the legislation, call their representative and ensure that we continue to push this envelope and make California a leader when it comes to accessing health care for all.

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