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GOP Senators Propose to Exclude Legalized Immigrants from Obtaining Health Care Benefits

Two Republican senators have introduced an amendment to the immigration reform bill that would potentially keep millions of newly legalized Americans, including children, uninsured for at least five years.
 
 
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Two Republican lawmakers have offered an amendment to the Senate’s comprehensive immigration reform bill that would prevent undocumented immigrants who achieve permanent legal status from accessing tax credits and cost-sharing subsidies through the Affordable Care Act for at least five years — potentially keeping millions of newly legalized Americans uninsured.

In a press release  touting the measure, Sens. Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Orrin Hatch (R-UT) explained that the provision applies the same waiting period to President Obama’s health care law that is currently in effect for public programs like Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), raising concerns from immigration advocates about whether the newly-legalized population will be able to afford health care coverage.

Immigrants have been subject to a five-year waiting period for Medicaid and CHIP since 1996, although the Children’s Health Program Reauthorization Act of 2009 (CHIPRA) provided states an option of eliminating the restriction for children and pregnant women. As of January, 25 states are allowing children immediate access to care and 20 permit pregnant women to receive benefits.

“This is a common-sense fix that ensures individuals will not become a new public charge when they gain legal permanent resident status,” Rubio explained. Advocates point to estimates that show that the legalization process — and the bill’s requirements for immigrants to pay back taxes and fees —  raises $5 billion in new revenue in three years, potions of which can fund the health care subsidies.

Keeping immigrants from accessing health care credits upon legalization can also shift health care cost down the road and force immigrants to put off needed or preventive services.

Studies show that “non-citizens are  three times as likely to be uninsured compared with U.S.-born citizens and are less likely to obtain needed care or preventive services.” As a result, the uninsured population costs federal and state governments an estimated  $10.7 billion in annual health care expenditures, often through very costly emergency room visits. Instituting policies that will have the effect of delaying access to services could transform relatively cheap and preventable conditions into chronic diseases that will cost more to manage.

Rubio is also co-sponsoring measures to prevent cash welfare payments to non-citizens and block immigrants who legalize from claiming credits for previous work as part of their eligibility for Social Security coverage.

Igor Volsky is a Health Care Researcher/Blogger for ThinkProgress.org and The Progress Report at the Center for American Progress Action Fund. Igor is co-author of Howard Dean’s "Prescription for Real Healthcare Reform."

 
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