Earlier today, while former National Republican Congressional Committee communications director Karen Hanretty and former Dick Gephart campaign manager Steve Murphy agreed that more enforcement measures should be put in place to make sure undocumented immigrants don’t benefit from health care reform, Fox News anchor Greg Jarrett took a more practical stance. Hanretty, who is opposed to even letting undocumented immigrants purchase health insurance with their own money at full cost, was in accord with Murphy who would like to see the government “expand the background check” on undocumented immigrants in the workplace. Jarrett pointed out that it doesn’t really make sense to hurt American taxpayers out of a spitefully stubborn commitment to making undocumented immigrants suffer:
HANRETTY: What this represents are two really big problems that this White House has. First of all, the idea that Democrats are out there suggesting that this particular health care bill should provide health care to illegal immigrants flies in the face of what President Obama said.
JARRETT: Let me just stop you there. Two points to be made. First of all, the government isn’t going to pay for it. The illegals would have to pay for it themselves. We would simply allow them access to it. And second of all, taxpayers, in the long run, would save money. Now, I gotta tell ya, I betcha most of our viewers right now are saying — wait, I can save money? That’s worth exploring.
HANRETTY: Your viewers are not saying that. I wish we had a live poll right now. I guarantee you that if you went out there right now and polled the American public and said should we allow illegal immigrants to buy into a government health care program, there would be a resounding no throughout America. This is a political noose around the necks of Democrats.
MURPHY: I completely agree. We’re not going to allow illegal immigrants to buy into this health care plan. So we should simply expand the background check into a universal background check and solve the problem once and for all…
HANRETTY: I can agree with Steve on on that.
JARRETT: I can’t believe you guys agree and I disagree. I’m on the side of taxpayers saving money.
He may be outnumbered, but Jarrett is actually right. As Christopher Beam of Slate points out, taxpayers are already paying for undocumented immigrants to get health care, but in the least efficient way. Currently, sick undocumented immigrants (or anyone else who’s uninsured) have little recourse other than the emergency room. That means that minor and treatable conditions are neglected until the patient is at death’s door. It also means that taxpayers pay millions and millions of dollars for costly emergency visits that could have been prevented. Furthermore, if undocumented immigrants were allowed to participate in the exchange and purchase affordable private health insurance at full cost with their own money, it would also pool risks and lower the premiums of everyone else participating in the health care system. Most immigrants are healthier and incur less health costs than US citizens, so their self-financed participation wouldn’t just save money, it would make health care cheaper for those who need it.
Murphy’s proposal to drag employment verification into the health care debate would involve sidetracking health care reform with a conversation about how to fix the nation’s broken immigration system. Most lawmakers who discuss something along the lines of a “universal background check” are referring to some sort of national ID system like the one tenuously set up by the REAL ID Act, or a web-based verification system like E-Verify. REAL ID might be repealed, and E-Verify is estimated to have a 4% error rate which could accidentally leave millions of US citizens not only uninsured, but also unemployed.
Besides the purely sensible argument there is to be made against denying consumers the ability to purchase something they need and are willing to pay for, ultimately, there’s also a humanitarian argument to be made in favor of providing affordable health care to those who need it. However, regardless of whether lawmakers want to make the lives of undocumented immigrants easier or harder, the debate should take place in the context of immigration reform instead of being used as a wedge to weaken and block health care legislation. Though it should be noted that in the case of health care and beyond, the more undocumented immigrants are brought into the system, the more they will be allowed to contribute to it.