The goal of Obamacare is to expand access to health care by requiring all U.S. citizens and permanent residents to have health insurance. Through state health insurance exchanges and an expansion of Medicaid, the health care reform law will increase the availability of affordable coverage.
But millions of undocumented immigrants are barred from these programs, and federal officials also have announced that undocumented immigrants who are granted temporary legal status under the new deferred action policy still will not be eligible for insurance benefits like insurance subsidies under Obamacare:
Immigrants granted such relief would ordinarily meet the definition of “lawfully present” residents, making them eligible for government subsidies to buy private insurance, a central part of the new health care law. But the administration issued a rule in late August that specifically excluded the young immigrants from the definition of “lawfully present.”
At the same time, in a letter to state health officials, the administration said that young immigrants granted a reprieve from deportation “shall not be eligible” for Medicaid or the Children’s Health Insurance Program. Administration officials said they viewed the immigration initiative and health coverage as separate matters. [...]
Nick Papas, a White House spokesman, said the deferred-deportation policy “was never intended” to confer eligibility for federal health benefits. The White House describes that policy as “an exercise of prosecutorial discretion,” allowing law enforcement officers to focus on immigrants who pose a threat to national security or public safety. Administration officials declined to elaborate as to why beneficiaries of the new immigration policy were ineligible for coverage under the new health law.
Immigration advocates and health policy experts are criticizing the decision to exclude the DREAM Act-eligible young adults who have qualified for deferred action. They argue that cutting people off from the programs that could help them gain affordable health coverage undercuts the goals of the health reform law. “We do not understand why the administration decided to do this,” Jennifer M. Ng’andu, a health policy specialist at the National Council of La Raza, told the New York Times. “It’s providing immigration relief to children and young adults so they can be fully integrated into society. At the same time, it’s shutting them out of the health care system so they cannot become productive members of society.”
Hispanic Heritage Month began on September 15, and Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius announced in a statement earlier this week that this month is an “opportunity to renew our commitment to promote health and wellness in the Latino community.” She added that millions of Latinos are benefiting from Obamacare already, and about 9 million will be eligible for Medicaid coverage and tax credits to offset health insurance costs.
But the thousands of undocumented young adults applying for deferred action so far — most of whom are Latino — won’t be eligible for Medicaid coverage or health care tax credits despite being protected from deportation if they qualify for temporary work permits. In all, about 1.7 million undocumented immigrants could apply to temporarily remain in the U.S. legally under the new federal policy. Preventing these young adults from accessing the coverage they need ultimately runs counter to Obamacare’s goal of increasing access to affordable health care across the country.