House Dems urge health care ac­cess for il­le­gals

The Washington Times Weekly - - Politics - BY STEPHEN DINAN

Fear­ful that they’re los­ing ground on im­mi­gra­tion and health care, a group of House Democrats is push­ing back and ar­gu­ing that any health care bill should ex­tend to all le­gal im­mi­grants and al­low il­le­gal im­mi­grants some ac­cess.

The Democrats, tr ying to stiffen their party’s spines on the con­tentious is­sue, say it’s un­fair to bar il­le­gal im­mi­grants from pay­ing their own way in a gov­ern­ment-spon­sored ex­change. Le­gal im­mi­grants, they say, re­gard­less of how long they’ve been in the United States, should be able to get gov­ern­ment-sub­si­dized health care if they meet the other el­i­gi­bil­ity re­quire­ments.

“Le­gal per­ma­nent res­i­dents should be able to pur­chase their plans, and they should also be el­i­gi­ble for sub­si­dies if they need it. Un­doc­u­mented, if they can af­ford it, should be able to buy their own pri­vate plans. It keeps them out of the emer­gency room,” said Rep. Michael M. Honda, Cal­i­for­nia Demo­crat and chair­man of the Con­gres­sional Asian Pa­cific Amer­i­can Cau­cus.

Mr. Honda was joined by more than 20 of his col­leagues in two let­ters lay­ing out the de­mands.

Cov­er­age for im­mi­grants is one of the thorni­est is­sues in the health care de­bate, and one many Demo­cratic leaders would like to avoid. But im­mi­grant rights groups and the Democrats who sent the let­ters say they have to take a stand now.

Pres­i­dent Obama has said he does not want health care pro­pos­als to cover il­le­gal im­mi­grants. The bill drawn up by Sen. Max Bau­cus, Mon­tana Demo­crat and chair­man of the Se­nate Fi­nance Com­mit­tee, ex­cludes il­le­gal im­mi­grants from his pro­posed health care ex­change.

Mr. Honda and his al­lies, though, say il­le­gal im­mi­grants should be al­lowed to pay for in­sur­ance if they can af­ford it, even if it comes through a gov­ern­ment-es­tab­lished ex­change. As a gen­er­ally young, healthy part of the pop­u­la­tion, il­le­gal im­mi­grants could help re­duce over­all costs for those who buy into health ex­change plans, the law­mak­ers said.

The Democrats’ let­ters, how­ever, do not is­sue ul­ti­ma­tums or threaten to with­hold sup­port for the bills if their re­quests aren’t met.

The Na­tional Coun­cil of La Raza launched its own “flood their voice mail” cam­paign two weeks ago to put pres­sure on Mr. Bau­cus to ex­pand cov­er­age in his pro­posal to in­clude all le­gal im­mi­grants and to drop ver­i­fi­ca­tion lan­guage in the leg­is­la­tion that would pre­vent il­le­gal im­mi­grants from ob­tain­ing cov­er­age.

Mr. Honda told The Wash­ing­ton Times that he’s not push­ing for il­le­gal im­mi­grants to gain ac­cess to tax­payer-sub­si­dized ben­e­fits. “That’s an ar­gu­ment that’s been done al­ready,” he said.

Rep. Steve King, Iowa Re- pub­li­can, said pro­pos­als that in­clude gov­ern­ment cov­er­age for il­le­gal im­mi­grants leave him in­cred­u­lous.

“If any­body can, with a straight face, ad­vo­cate that we should pro­vide health in­sur­ance for peo­ple who broke into our coun­try, broke our law and for the most part are crim­i­nals, I don’t know where they ever would draw the line,” he said.

Mr. King, who op­poses Democrats’ health care plans in gen­eral, said il­le­gal im­mi­grant ac­cess in leg­is­la­tion “would be a poi­son pill that would cause health care to go down” to de­feat.

Twenty-nine Democrats signed on to the let­ter on le­gal im­mi­grants, while 21 signed the let­ter on cov­er­ing il­le­gal immi- grants. Al­though the lead­er­ship of the Con­gres­sional Black Cau­cus signed the le­gal-im­mi­grant let­ter in their ca­pac­ity as CBC of­fi­cials, they signed the other let­ter as in­di­vid­ual mem­bers of Congress.

Un­der the 1996 wel­fare law over­haul, Congress re­stricted most fed­eral ben­e­fits to long­time hold­ers of green cards — those who have been in the coun­try at least five years.

But Democrats chipped away at that rule when they reau­tho­rized the State Chil­dren’s Health In­sur­ance Pro­gram ear­lier this year and al­lowed states to cover all im­mi­grant chil­dren and preg­nant women, re­gard­less of how long they’ve been in the coun­try.

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