Senate Starts Considering Amendments Restricting Health Care Benefits Of Legal Immigrants

Today, the Senate Finance Committee began addressing a series of amendments to Sen. Max Baucus’ (D-MT) health care plan that will dramatically affect the benefits that legal immigrants will be able to receive. The amendments cover a range of issues: verification requirements, cross-agency information sharing, waiting periods for tax credits, and eligibility restrictions. The mostly-Republican sponsored amendments seek to limit the coverage of legal immigrants while creating even more verification obstacles for immigrants and US citizens alike:

Amendment Type Provision Offset Status
Schumer C11 Verification Proof of citizenship could be authenticated by a future biometric verification system that is mandatory for employment. Biometric technology is costly, controversial and prone to errors. Pending
Grassley C8 Verification Requires applicant to present a government-issued photo ID at the time of application for Medicaid or CHIP benefits. Creates a significant barrier to coverage and undermines the simple, mail-in and online application processes. Failed: 10-13
Kyl C12 & C14, Grassley F6, Ensign C1 Waiting Periods Reinstates five year waiting period for legal immigrants for tax credits. Legal immigrants would be required to have health insurance but are barred from accessing federal health programs which they help fund. Pending
Ensign C2 Eligibility Requires applicants for health insurance tax credits to supply a valid SSN of spouse and qualifying child in the individual’s tax filing unit even if spouse/child is not applying for a tax credit. Would discriminate against citizens and legal immigrants by denying them health insurance tax credits solely because other members of their households do not have SSNs. Pending
Ensign C3 Eligibility Establishes a penalty for sponsored legal immigrants who fail to obtain health coverage. If an immigrant cannot obtain coverage, the sponsor would be required to pay either the penalty or the tax credit provided to the sponsored immigrant, whichever is greater. Pending
Kyl C15 Information Sharing Requires real time information sharing by SSA, IRS and DHS for tax credit application In direct conflict with health privacy protections and basic confidentiality protections in tax code. Failed: 10-12-1

When it comes to verification provisions, the Baucus bill already already requires all applicants’ name, social security number, and date of birth to be verified with Social Security Administration (SSA) data. The information of immigrants is checked against DHS data to verify they are lawfully present in the US. Piling on more verification requirements doesn’t just over-complicate the application process for immigrants, it hurts US citizens. Grassley’s amendment would’ve required Medicaid applicants — the poorest US residents — to put originals of documents such as a driver’s licenses in the mail or take precious time off work to visit the Medicaid office in-person. Meanwhile, Schumer may be trying to seem tough on enforcement in anticipation of a looming immigration reform battle which he plans on leading, but his health care amendment is off-the-mark. Besides the fact that it’s going to take a whole lot of time and taxpayer money to develop a national biometric verification system, the system would be built on E-Verify, a flawed web-based verification system that currently has a 4% error rate and could accidentally block millions of eligible citizens.

As it currently stands, the Chairman’s Mark would allow legal immigrants to qualify for health insurance tax credits without a waiting period. The proposed “waiting period” amendments, however, put legal immigrants who have been in the US for less than five years in a position in which they are paying taxes and funding a program that they don’t even have access to. They would still be required to purchase insurance (and face a steep fine if they don’t), but wouldn’t receive any government assistance to do so. Their lack of participation would meanwhile limit the pool of participants and increase the cost of health care for everyone.

Ensign C2 & C3 would impose onerous requirements that many immigrant families will be unable to meet. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the U. S. Department of Agriculture has found that requirements similar to those in Ensign C2 imposed by states would violate Civil Rights laws. It’s certainly unfair to require legal immigrants to purchase insurance and then fine them if a family member can not provide a SSN or if they are sponsoring an immigrant who can not afford insurance.

The Senate Finance Committee had good reason to vote down Kyl C15 and keep the DHS, IRS, and SSA operating independently of one another. Tax collection and immigration enforcement efforts are conducted separately “in order to make sure that everyone who earns income within our borders pays the proper amount of taxes,” regardless of their immigration status. Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) called Grassley C8 “a solution looking for a problem” before it was defeated this afternoon. The same could be said for most of the amendments proposed to further limit the few benefits that legal immigrants in the US might be able to receive.