Saturday, September 12, 2009

Illegal Immigrants Difficult To Remove From ObamaCare


News Analysis by IBD
| Posted Thursday, September 10, 2009

It was the heckle heard round the world. During President Obama's Wednesday speech, Rep. Joe Wilson, R-S.C., shouted "You lie!" when Obama said his health plan wouldn't cover illegal aliens.

Democrats — and many Republicans — cried foul at the breach of decorum. Wilson apologized for his "inappropriate and regrettable" outburst. Obama said Thursday he accepted the apology.

But was Wilson inaccurate? Some independent analysis indicates — contrary to Obama's claim — that the House health bill could result in coverage being extended to illegal immigrants.

The Congressional Research Service, a nonpartisan agency that analyzes legislation for lawmakers, notes that most of the language in the main House bill does not include illegals — but has few mechanisms for enforcing this.

The bill's individual mandate to get coverage does include illegals.

"Wilson was inappropriate and rude, but he does have a point," said Steven Camarota of the Center for Immigration Studies, which favors immigration restriction.

As an Aug. 25 CRS report notes, the bill's individual mandate to get health coverage extends to "unauthorized aliens" who have a "substantial presence" in the U.S. That means they have lived here for at least 31 days in the current year and 183 days in the past two years.

Trust, Don't Verify

Another provision would create health exchanges for people to buy public or private insurance. The CRS notes that the bill "does not contain any restrictions on noncitizens — whether legally or illegally present," from participating.

The bill would also provide subsidies to buy health coverage, but not for "individuals who are not lawfully in the United States."

Yet the CRS notes the bill has no verification mechanism. It leaves that up to a newly created "Health Choices Commissioner."

During Ways and Means hearings, Rep. Dean Heller, R-Nev., sought to amend the House bill to require screening illegals via the Income and Eligibility Verification System and the Systematic Alien Verification for Entitlements.

Heller's amendment was voted down along party lines. A committee spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment.

"The congressman believes the House bill does not restrict illegal aliens from accessing the services in the bill," said Stewart Bybee, Heller's spokesman.

No Health Patrol?

CIS's Camarota agrees, saying the bill's language gives little reason to believe it would screen out illegal immigrants.

"It is kind of like putting up a speed limit sign on a highway and then the police saying we'll never patrol that highway," he said.

The CIS estimates that the House bill would cover 6.6 million uninsured illegal immigrants.

Pro-immigration groups dispute such contentions.

Sonal Ambegaokar, health policy attorney with the National Immigration Law Center, says that claims the bill would extend to illegal immigrants are simply false. Most low income people would come in via Medicaid, she said. "And they have done an effective job in verifying eligibility."

She expects that system to be extended to the insurance exchange in the final language.

Camarota responded that about half of illegals earn too much to qualify for Medicaid. He also argued that expanding Medicaid will erode its enforcement powers.

If ObamaCare truly bars illegals, they would likely use emergency rooms, which has been cited as a reason for national health care.

It's unclear how the Senate will address illegals. Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, D-Mont., has proposed an outline, but the Senate has no single health bill now.

The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities noted that Baucus' plan would require companies to pay for subsidies to buy coverage for employees from low-income families. This could deter firms from hiring the poor, freezing out many immigrant families.

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