Including DACA Recipients in Health Care Reform

By Jenny Rejeske, Health Policy Analyst National Immigration Law Center

The Obama administration’s decision to cut access to affordable health care for young people granted relief from deportation hurts everyone. This decision came weeks after the administration initiated the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) policy, which lifts the cloud of deportation for immigrant youth who have grown up here. At the same time, the administration quietly issued policy changes excluding DACA recipients from federal health insurance programs, effectively shutting their door to affordable health care. 

As a result of the recent policy change, many DACA recipients, unable to purchase health coverage in the insurance exchanges like other taxpayers, will continue to remain uninsured. In essence, the Obama administration has provided immigrant youth with the tools they need to work, but denied them the right to take care of themselves.

The restrictions were entirely unnecessary.  Existing federal rules would have allowed eligible DACA recipients, like others granted deferred action, to enroll in these health coverage programs. Instead, the administration excluded them and not for sound health policy reasons.

Discriminating against these young people places the health of children, youth, pregnant women and their newborns at risk, fails to ensure that young workers and students remain healthy and productive, and interferes with the cost-effective strategy of including healthy and young individuals in the nation’s risk pool.  It emboldens anti-immigrant state lawmakers who would like nothing better than to deny DACA recipients drivers’ licenses and other basic state services.  Most importantly, it undermines President Obama’s repeated commitment to creating a roadmap to citizenship for these young people.

Luckily there has been an outpouring of opposition to the health coverage restrictions from a diverse coalition of groups – including immigrant rights, reproductive justice, health advocacy, health care providers, civil rights, faith-based, and anti-poverty groups – led by DREAMers and the United We Dream Network.  150 groups signed a UWD-led letter to the president opposing the changes.  A broad coalition of faith groups sent their own letter.  More than 350 groups submitted official comments to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services opposing the restriction to the ACA insurance programs.

This policy change could set a damaging precedent in how the federal government integrates immigrants more fully into our society.  As we push to have this exclusionary rule repealed, all of us must be prepared to fulfill President Obama’s promise during health care reform – that any immigrants excluded from health care reform in 2010 – would be included after immigration reform.  As the administration and lawmakers gear up for immigration reform in 2013, only those proposals that provide a roadmap to citizenship for 11 million people and an opportunity to be healthy, productive, and full members of society, rather than second-class citizens, will provide true reform.

Discriminating against an immigrant by denying her the ability to purchase affordable care sends the message that she isn’t worth the investment. It also clearly tells her that she has all the responsibilities, but none of the rights, of citizenship. We must ensure that immigrants gain both the rights and the responsibilities of all Americans.  Providing DACA beneficiaries with the freedom to purchase their own health care under the Affordable Care Act should be an easy first step.

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