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Illegal Immigrants and Health Care Reform

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By The Staff

Since President Obama’s address to the Joint Session of Congress on Sept. 9, there have been many conflicting reports about whether illegal immigrants would be able to access the health care benefits included in the reform legislation being considered in the House of Representatives.

Despite the President’s pledge that his plan for health care reform “would not apply to those who are here illegally,” H.R. 3200 does not do enough to satisfy the President’s standard.

Although Sec. 245 of the bill includes language requiring individuals to verify their income in order to receive federal subsidies to purchase health insurance, the bill fails to include any requirement for individuals to verify their citizenship, immigration status, or identity before enrolling in the government health care programs created by the bill.

According to the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service, “Under H.R. 3200, a ‘Health Insurance Exchange’ would begin operation in 2013 and would offer private plans alongside a public option … H.R. 3200 does not contain any restrictions on noncitizens — whether legally or illegally present, or in the United States temporarily or permanently — participating in the Exchange.”

The nonpartisan Center for Immigration Studies projects that if all uninsured illegal immigrants who qualify based on income (a total of 6.6 million people) were to receive the taxpayer-funded subsidies to purchase health insurance as provided in H.R. 3200, it would cost the federal government $30.5 billion annually. That is a drastic increase over the estimated $4.3 billion a year that federal, state and local governments spend on health care for illegal immigrants, mainly at emergency rooms and free clinics.

House Republicans agree with President Obama that taxpayer subsidies should not be provided to undocumented immigrants. Sec. 246 of H.R. 3200 says that nothing shall allow federal payments for affordability credits on behalf of individuals who are not lawfully present in the United States. However, the bill contains no verification mechanism to enforce Sec. 246 and ensure that illegal immigrants do not receive benefits.

In order to combat this, Congressman Dean Heller, Nev., offered an amendment during the House Committee on Ways and Means markup of H.R. 3200 to clarify and strengthen the bill by requiring applicants for the bill’s taxpayer-subsidized benefits to verify their citizenship and identity. This amendment was defeated 15-26 on a party line vote.

Many existing federal assistance programs, including Medicaid, Title IV Educational Assistance Programs, the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families Program and certain housing programs, already use effective verification programs to prevent illegal immigrants from obtaining benefits. These programs can be a model for a similar program that could be incorporated into health care reform legislation.

As we continue towards final legislation, we must guarantee that the final bill includes critical provisions that will require applicants for taxpayer-subsidized benefits to verify their citizenship and identity.    

You can read more about the health care reform debate by visiting my health care issue page.

Congressman Geoff Davis