During today’s SCHIP debate, Republican Senators tried to block efforts to overturn a provision that currently subjects most legal permanent residents to a five-year ban on eligibility for Medicaid and SCHIP.
Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) introduced an amendment that strikes the immigrant provision and increases “the enrollment of uninsured low income American children.” Sen. Orrin Hatch’s (R-UT) amendment similarly prohibits coverage of non-citizen children until a state demonstrates “that it has enrolled 95 percent of the children eligible for Medicaid or CHIP who reside in the State and whose family income does not exceed 200 percent of the poverty line.”
A lot of this is political posturing. Denying Democrats a victory, rallying the base, but ultimately alienating thousands of soon-to-be citizen voters:
HATCH: I simply cannot support a CHIP bill that allows states to cover legal immigrant children when there are 6 million at the 200% level and below eligible for CHIP and Medicaid. These children ought to be our first priority. [Senate floor, 1/27/2009]
KYL: The bill would add “huge costs” to the SCHIP program at a time when “we acknowledge that we can’t even pay for things like, for example, the physician update, every year, whereby American doctors take care of American citizens in the Medicare program.” [NPR, 1/27/2009]
In their effort to divide and conquer, conservatives are rowing their boats against the tide of popular opinion and logic, hoping to sidetrack a conversation about health care into a debate about immigration. Why must we choose between expanding the program to cover more children and ensuring that eligible children enroll in greater numbers? Why can’t we do both simultaneously?
We can. In fact, if conservatives were truly interested in expanding children’s health care they would be focusing their efforts on simplifying the application process, funding outreach and enrollment efforts and providing incentives for states to encourage greater enrollment.
For one, providing health care coverage to immigrant children is extremely popular. According to a poll commissioned by First Focus, 67 percent of Americans “favor eliminating the five-year waiting period for legal immigrant children.”
And the investment is well worth it. Forcing immigrant children to go five years without affordable insurance only increases SCHIP’s costs once the now sicker children become eligible for insurance. The current ban has contributed to “higher costs for emergency room visits and poorer health outcomes”, “exacerbated the disparity in health coverage between immigrants and native citizens,” contributed to the increasing uninsured rates among immigrants, and “shifted the burden of covering this population to sates and local safety net providers.”