Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Health Care Debate Revives Immigration Battle

Published: September 5, 2009
New York Times

The Obama administration took an overhaul of the country’s immigration
laws off its legislative agenda this year, but the prickly issue of public
benefits for illegal immigrants has resurfaced in the health care debate.

Republicans argue that some of the voters’ concerns are justified because,
they say, the proposals before Congress do not spell out procedures to verify
the citizenship of those who would receive health coverage. [...]

Broad explanations, not intricate detail, were what voters in Georgia were
looking for in recent meetings with Representative Phil Gingrey, a Republican
who was a practicing physician in the state for 26 years. Mr. Gingrey said there
had been an influx of illegal immigrants in his district in the last decade.
“A lot of their kids are in the school system,” Mr. Gingrey said in a
telephone interview. “They get a free public education without any question. My
constituents don’t want the same thing to happen with regard to health
Mr. Gingrey said the prohibitions against illegal immigrants in the
bills were “reassuring,” but he, too, suggested that eligibility verification
remained weak. According to local news reports, Mr. Gingrey drew cheers in one
meeting when he said he would work to make sure the health plan did not become a
magnet drawing new illegal immigrants to the United States. [...]

Democrats reacted sharply to the prospect of a fight over verification. Senator Max
of Montana, chairman of the Finance Committee, said citizenship
checks already included in federal programs like Medicaid
would be preserved in new legislation. He said the health care debate should not
be a forum for a battle over immigration.
As a result of a 2005 law,
Medicaid, the federal low-income health program, now requires all applicants to
verify their citizenship. Current health care proposals would expand Medicaid to
more families, keeping the proof-of-citizenship requirements.
Democrats are
reluctant to expand those requirements to everyone seeking insurance under a
health care overhaul, because several studies on the
impact on Medicaid
have found that citizenship verification increased
administrative costs for states and made it difficult for some American citizens
to join the program.
Many of those left out were elderly patients, who did not have originals of
identity documents that the 2005 law demands.
“Many states view the proof of
citizenship as very onerous on American families,” said Diane Rowland, executive
director of the Commission on Medicaid and the
at the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, speaking of the Medicaid
In six states that were
in 2007 by the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform,
verification increased federal costs by $8.3 million, but only eight illegal
immigrants were detected on the Medicaid rolls of the states.

Read more: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/09/06/health/policy/06immighealth.html

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