Late on Saturday night the House passed its health care reform bill and put the ball back in the Senate’s court. The goal is to make health care more affordable and more accessible for millions of Americans. Once again, immigration became a major obstacle to the bill’s passage as immigration restrictionists and others pushed for harsher language and verification rules to exclude unauthorized immigrants from the bill’s benefits.

Overall the bill presents a mixed-bag for immigrants:

Legal Immigrants:
Lawfully residing immigrants who make too much money to be eligible for Medicaid, do not have employer-sponsored health insurance, and cannot afford to buy insurance on their own will be eligible for the affordability credits created by the House bill. This means that many more legal immigrants will be able to afford health insurance.

5-Year Bar:
The final House bill does not rescind the bar that denies federal Medicaid benefits to lawful permanent residents for their first five years. This means that legal immigrants who are working and paying taxes will not be eligible to receive the benefits of their taxes dollars for at least 5 years.

Unauthorized Immigrants:
Undocumented immigrants are already restricted from most public insurance programs, including Medicaid. The House does not include any provisions to expand their eligibility. Under the bill, unauthorized immigrants are not eligible for the affordability credits or subsidies that would make purchasing insurance more affordable. But, the House bill does not exclude undocumented immigrants from being able to buy full-price insurance with their own money in the Exchange.

House members, particularly Rep. Nydia Velazquez and the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, were able to successfully block an immigration-related motion to recommit by House Republicans—a motion with the intention of forcing a tough vote on immigration that, if passed, may have resulted in the bill’s defeat.

Health care reform now moves to the Senate, where battles over the 5-year bar, verification systems, and unauthorized immigrants’ ability to purchase health insurance are likely to continue. We hope the Senate puts good public policy above symbolic, political fights over immigration and passes bill that recognizes that all Americans are better off if health care is inclusive.

Photo by justclaire.