Healthcare and immigration converge explosively

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Two hot-button issues are converging to crank the political dial way past “riled-up” – healthcare reform and immigration.

President Obama and Democratic supporters of health insurance legislation insist that bills now being considered exclude illegal immigrants from any coverage. Their opponents’ response boils down to “Oh, yeah?” As with many such disputes, it’s unlikely that agreement will be reached, even if substantial reform legislation is passed into law – by no means a certainty.

For one thing, nobody knows for sure how many illegal immigrants are in the United States or how many of those have received medical treatment at public expense. Neither the US Census Bureau nor hospitals ask about citizenship status.

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But the Pew Hispanic Center estimates that 6.8 million uninsured adults and children are in the United States illegally.

More recently, the Center for Immigration Studies (a nonpartisan research organization “which seeks fewer immigrants but a warmer welcome for those admitted”) reported that the portion of immigrants (legal and illegal) without health insurance is more than twice as high as for native-born Americans.

“The high level of uninsurance among immigrants is partly explained by the large share who have low levels of education. This means they often have jobs that do not provide insurance. Moreover, their lower incomes often make insurance unaffordable,” CIS reports. The organization sponsored a panel discussion on healthcare and immigration last week. It’s still available on video.

When he was a guest on Michael Smerconish’s radio show last week, President Obama was adamant on the subject.

“None of the bills that have been voted on in Congress, and none of the proposals coming out of the White House propose giving coverage to illegal immigrants – none of them,” he said. “That has never been on the table; nobody has discussed it. So everybody who is listening out there, when you start hearing that somehow this is all designed to provide health insurance to illegal immigrants, that is simply not true and has never been the case.”

In fact, the main healthcare bill in the House of Representatives specifically excludes illegal immigrants, according to a “myths vs. facts” page on New York Congressman John Hall’s website.

But wait, says the Federation for American Immigration Reform, a nonpartisan organization working for lower immigration levels in the US. There’s a major loophole in the House bill, according to FAIR: no eligibility verification screening that would effectively block coverage for illegal immigrants.

“As FAIR has consistently pointed out, illegal aliens will be allowed to exploit this loophole in order to obtain taxpayer-funded health insurance benefits,” the organization states. “From the American taxpayer’s perspective, this is a distinction without a difference.”

Immigrant advocates increasingly find themselves in a politically defensive position.

The National Immigration Law Center, which works on behalf of immigrants, has developed “talking points” to use with lawmakers and the media.

“We need to mobilize to forcefully counter anti-immigrant and anti-healthcare reform forces who are spreading untruths about immigrants and affordable healthcare at community meetings and in the media,” the organization declares on its website.

On the Smerconish radio show last week, Obama acknowledged that illegal immigrants – especially children – still could get emergency treatment at hospitals.

“I think there is a basic standard of decency where if somebody is in a death situation or a severe illness, that we're going to provide them emergency care,” he said. “But nobody has talked about providing health insurance to illegal immigrants. I want to make that absolutely clear.”
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