Illegal Immigrant Health Care

, Sarah Carlsruh, Leave a comment

The new health care reform bill explicitly bans healthcare benefits for illegal immigrants, but it lacks a key component, which is some way to enforce it. According to a study by the Center for Immigration Studies, “there are 6.6 million uninsured illegal immigrants in the United States who could be covered by the new health care reform bill.”

Steven Camarota, Director of Research at the Center for Immigration Studies, states that “even though HR 3200 states that illegal immigrants are not eligible for the proposed taxpayer-funded affordable premium credits, there is nothing in the bill to enforce this.” SAVE, the Systematic Alien Verification for Entitlements, is used by 71 federal programs to determine legal status. Although this program could have been used to prevent illegal immigrants from receiving taxpayer funding, the House Ways and Means Committee defeated a proposed amendment to require the use of SAVE to verify the legal status of those applying for public benefits.

The America’s Affordable Health Choices Act of 2009 (HR 3200) would provide affordability credits to assist low-income persons in the purchase of health care. In essence, affordability credits are a voucher given to help pay for private health insurance. The bills other health choice option would be to “enroll in a new government-run health insurance system that the bill would create,” or what is often referred to as the “public option.”

Some are concerned that these tax-funded options may be available to illegal immigrants. While HR 3200 explicitly states that “nothing in this subtitle shall allow federal payments for affordability credits on behalf of individuals who are not lawfully present in the United States,” it still does not have any restrictions against non-citizens benefiting from this Health Insurance Exchange.

The Center for Immigration Studies estimates that “despite their 15 percent share of the uninsured, illegal immigrants account for only 10 percent of all governmental costs of treating the uninsured, or $4.3 billion annually.” Compare this to what it would cost under the new health care program. Camarota asserted that “the nearly seven million uninsured illegal immigrants with qualifying incomes could receive affordability credits under the bill, creating billions of dollars in costs to taxpayers.” This study estimated that if all uninsured low-income immigrants were to receive the affordability credits, it would cost taxpayers about $30 billion.

Not every illegal immigrant is going to register for the new health care benefits. Lack of information and fear, the study points out, might prevent some from enrolling, potentially causing the $30 billion estimate to be a bit high. Some might also argue that illegal immigrants, being generally younger, cost less to insure. However, this study pointed out that “government-provided affordable premium credits paid to insurance companies would be the same for everyone, regardless of age or preexisting conditions. Therefore, the younger age of illegals does not result in lower average costs for taxpayers for this program.”

Obama has suggested a possible solution to giving publicly-funded insurance to illegal immigrants: make them legal. As Steven Camarota wrote, “President Obama and others have indicated their strong desire to legalize those in the country illegally with the hope that this would help solve the problem of uninsured illegal immigrants.” At the North American Leaders Summit last month, Obama defended his need to fix immigration the way he defends the health care overhaul, saying “we have a broken immigration system. Nobody denies it.”

Working on immigration legislation intending to help millions of immigrants try to obtain citizenship, Obama’s administration hopes to raise wages of the newly legalized immigrants, bringing some of them out of the low-income range that qualifies them for “taxpayer-financed healthcare.” Yet most uninsured illegal immigrants are on the lower end of the income spectrum and so it is unlikely that a significant portion would suddenly rise above the low-income bracket. Legalization would, stated Camarota, mean that “more are receiving the new affordability credits, public option plan, or perhaps enrolling in Medicaid.” It would certainly result in an increased cost to taxpayers.

The study concluded that “the nearly seven million uninsured illegal immigrants with qualifying incomes could receive affordability credits under the bill, creating billions of dollars in costs to taxpayers.”

Sarah Carlsruh is an intern at the American Journalism Center, a training program run by Accuracy in Media and Accuracy in Academia.