Health Reform and Immigration Status – What’s the Link?

Health reform and undocumented immigration are two key issues in the upcoming election – but the two subjects may be more closely linked than many realize. President Barack Obama’s healthcare reform, according to some immigrants and health care experts, may inadvertently expose some undocumented immigrants to the risk of deportation. The reform requires all permanent residents and citizens of the US to get health care insurance, either through a private insurer or a government program. The reform, however, does not allow undocumented immigrants to get coverage. Now that more low-income Americans will be covered by health care insurance due to the reform, some experts think that undocumented immigrants will stand out because they will not be covered. The estimated 12 million undocumented immigrants in the US will not qualify for coverage.

Some health care experts say that while medical care should be provided in emergency cases regardless of a person’s ability to pay or their immigration status, they fear that some undocumented immigrants may be reluctant to seek help once the reform goes into place. Currently, some taxpayer-funded health plans and health care alliances in the US allow patients to get coverage regardless of immigration status or income, but the new reform could put an end to that. There are also clinics that offer care to everyone, including undocumented immigrants. However, under the new reforms some of these options may disappear for undocumented immigrants, especially with budgets slashes and with more lobbying by some groups who do not want to see taxpayer dollars used for undocumented immigrants.

According to some experts, even those who qualify for health care may not get it due to concerns about immigration. The Urban Institute reports that almost one in every ten families in the US have at least one parent who is a undocumented immigrant and at least one child who is a US citizen. The US citizen children may qualify for the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) and other forms of healthcare coverage, but it is possible that many in these mixed status families will not get the health coverage they qualify for since undocumented family members may fear deportation. The situation may be especially difficult for those who live in states where sentiment against undocumented immigration is strong.

Conservative groups, such as the Heritage Foundation, argue that it is too costly to offer coverage for these children and could set a dangerous precedent. They note that children who are born in the US to undocumented immigrants get tens of thousands of dollars in benefits, including health care and public education. They further argue that allowing these children benefits gives undocumented immigrants an incentive to enter the country and have children in the US.