Young immigrants shut out of health reform

By Drew Joseph
San Francisco Chronicle, February 19, 2013

California’s young immigrants who have been granted reprieves to stay in the country stand to gain little from the federal health reform law that the state Legislature is working to implement.

The Affordable Care Act excludes illegal immigrants from accessing the law’s benefits, but some immigrant and health advocates are angry that the young people known as Dreamers have been left out, saying the policy contradicts the law’s intent of expanding coverage to more people.

“It really defeats what the goals of the ACA were to begin with,” said Sonal Ambegaokar, health policy attorney at the National Immigration Law Center.

The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program (DACA), which was announced in June, allows people who were brought into the United States when they were young to stay for two years if they pursue education or military service. The young people eligible for the program are known as Dreamers, in reference to the proposed Dream Act – legislation that would give them a path to citizenship.

More than a quarter of the 1.76 million people who are or will be eligible to apply for DACA – about 460,000 immigrants – live in California, according to an August 2012 Migration Policy Institute report.

After the DACA program was announced, the Obama administration clarified the policy, specifying that people to whom DACA applies will not qualify for Medicaid now or as the health law is implemented. And while many Americans will receive subsidies to buy insurance through their state’s exchanges – the insurance marketplaces established by the Affordable Care Act – people granted DACA approval will not be able to purchase coverage through those exchanges even with their own money.

Critics say the rule does not make sense. They argue that people approved for the program are lawfully present in the country, but when it comes to health care, they are treated as undocumented immigrants and will face a harder time finding coverage.…


Health Care for DACA Grantees

National Immigration Law Center, January 2013

What health insurance options are available to DACA grantees under ACA?

Until recently, like other individuals granted deferred action, DACA grantees would have had access to all the new health insurance options under ACA as “lawfully present” individuals. Due to a rule change by the Obama administration in August 2012, DACA grantees were specifically excluded from the ACA as well as nonemergency Medicaid and CHIP, and have the same access to health insurance as do undocumented individuals despite being granted deferred action by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. As a result of the rule change, DACA grantees who have valid work permits and valid Social Security numbers (SSNs) and who are otherwise eligible:

* Cannot enroll today in affordable coverage through Medicaid or CHIP unless their state provides coverage to a broader group of lawfully present individuals.

* Do not have access today to prenatal care through Medicaid or CHIP unless their state provides coverage for pregnant women regardless of the woman’s immigration status.

* Cannot apply today for private health insurance under Pre-Existing Condition Insurance Plan (PCIP) unless their state has a similar health insurance program that is available regardless of status.

* Will not be able to buy affordable private health insurance, even at full cost, in the new insurance marketplaces created by ACA after 2014.

* Will not be eligible for federal tax credits (or subsidies) to help make private health insurance affordable after 2014, even if they are paying federal taxes.

* Will not be eligible for the Basic Health Plan if their state has this program.

* Likely will not be required to have health insurance after 2014.

What health care options do DACA grantees and undocumented individuals have today?

* Emergency-room care.

* Community health centers and free clinics.

* Public and safety-net hospitals.

* Public health services (immunizations, treatment of communicable diseases such as tuberculosis, HIV, or sexually transmitted diseases).

* Emergency treatment under the emergency Medicaid program, including labor and delivery for pregnancy.

* Hospital and community health centers’ financial assistance programs (also known as “charity care”).

* Private health insurance.

Young immigrant children who were brought to this country and remained here without proper documentation have been raised here and are as much a part of our culture as are legal citizens. The Dream Act has been proposed to grant these individuals legal status to match the reality that this is their country.

Because of the failure of Congress to pass the Dream Act, President Obama has established the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program (DACA). This is not a replacement of the Dream Act, but it is aimed at the same demographic, and it does provide temporary, potentially renewable legal status.

It seems that these individuals under DACA should have the same access to health care as other documented immigrants. However, it was decided that they would specifically be excluded from the provisions of the Affordable Care Act. They are not totally excluded from all health care since they have the same access as undocumented immigrants – those services and facilities listed above.

Although some might say that these services are adequate for this population, most of us want not want these limitations placed on our health care (with the exception of being able to purchase insurance outside of the exchanges and without subsidies – a problem for this population).

Immigration policy and health policy are two different topics. They should be dealt with separately. Right now, Congress is engaged in a process to reform immigration, and hopefully our lawmakers will demonstrate wisdom and benevolence in their decisions.

Health care is another matter. Everyone should have whatever health care is necessary. Period. Our laws and regulations and their implementation should have a goal of making certain that people get the care that they need. The Obama administration’s interpretation of their own DACA program falls short.

Under an optimally designed single payer program, whomever you are, if you need care, you get care. That’s the way it should be.