Connecting the Dots Between Immigration and Health Care Reform

Updated: 01/06/10

As Congress continues to broker the specifics of health care legislation, some reports cite key Democrats as allegedly holding out their support of the bill contingent on a solid White House promise that a comprehensive immigration reform bill will be addressed this year—a reform bill that would provide health care coverage options to all immigrants, including undocumented immigrants on an earned path to citizenship.

According to a recent Talking Points Memo article, the Congressional Hispanic Caucus (CHC)—which threatened to block the health care bill back in November if restrictive language prohibiting illegal immigrants from accessing the public health insurance exchange wasn’t changed—is now allegedly willing to pledge their support as long as they have President Obama’s promise that a forthcoming immigration bill will include health care coverage for undocumented immigrants. CHC recently disputed this claim, but held that it still “opposes provisions in the Senate health care bill that would negatively impact immigrants.”

Currently, the House health care bill allows undocumented immigrants to purchase insurance on the exchange with their own money. The Senate bill, however, does not. It’s also important to note the neither the House nor the Senate health care bill subsidizes insurance for undocumented immigrants.

So what do we have to gain by passing health care reform that is inclusive of both documented and undocumented immigrants alike? A Washington Post editorial yesterday enumerated the many benefits of including all immigrants in health care reform—connecting the dots between immigration and health care reform:

The real solution to the problem of illegal immigration is, of course, comprehensive immigration reform. Until then, millions of people are going to remain in the country illegally. The Congressional Budget Office projects there will be about 14 million who are not elderly in 2019. Of those, according to the CBO, almost 60 percent, or 8 million, will be uninsured. If some are willing and able to purchase insurance through the exchanges—and the CBO estimates that a few million would—it makes no sense to bar them from doing so.

In fact, allowing such purchases would benefit everyone. First, the more the ranks of the uninsured are reduced, the less the burden on hospitals and other parts of the health-care system to provide uncompensated care, the costs of which are passed on to other consumers in the form of higher prices and premiums. Second, illegal immigrants to this country tend to be relatively young and healthy. The more such individuals purchase insurance, the healthier—and less costly—the risk pool.

As the Washington Post editorial and numerous Immigration Policy Center fact sheets point out, distributing health care costs across a broader pool of people actually lowers the overall costs for everyone. Including immigrants—through immigration reform or a health care bill that allows coverage through the public option—creates a more a robust and functioning health care system. We can only hope that Congress and the White House recognize that all Americans are better off with a health care system that includes all immigrants and not just some.

Photo by Old Sarge.

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