Immigration Reform 2013: Why Immigrants Should Get Obamacare


Congress reconvened this week, recharged and ready (or not) to begin another round of budget battles, authorize the raising of the debt ceiling, address President Obama’s college affordability push, and most urgently — finding a majority opinion on the pending Syria strike. However, despite Congress’s lofty workload, we should not fail to push our federal government to remember immigration reform as one of its most pressing domestic questions. Immigration affects our economy, our stability at home and therefore our strength abroad, but most importantly, our much-troubled health care system.

No issue is an island of its own. Come October 1, the state-operated health insurance marketplaces go online, and another large phase of the Affordable Care Act commences. Under the ACA, unauthorized immigrants are ineligible to purchase health care through the public exchanges even if they have the means to do so, and are ineligible for subsidies (up to $3000) to supplement health care costs. The resounding passage of Senate Bill 744, the gang of eight’s “Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act of 2013”, on a 68-32 vote, addresses some of these ACA shortcomings by allowing the participation of Resident Provisional Immigrants (RPI), blue card status (agricultural workers), and V nonimmigrant visas (for family visas beneficiaries awaiting immigrant visa approval) into the healthcare exchange, albeit at full cost without access to subsidies. 

Failure to responsibly deal with the 11 million undocumented immigrants residing in the country undermines our bold attempt at health care overhaul. Keeping immigrants ineligible for the Affordable Care Act and exempting them from the individual mandate undermines the law's primary intention — to lower costs by requiring everyone to be insured. A large function of the ACA lies in its subsidies, which immigrants are across the board ineligible as they wait a more than decade long process to become citizens and therefore eligible for all the same benefits.

By introducing a larger pool of younger, healthier people into insurance pools, it could potentially reduce the overall costs of insurance, which was the intention of the market exchange system and the Affordable Care Act.

The 11 million people that are unauthorized immigrants aren’t leaving the country. In the next five to 10 years, as they await potential citizenship, some of them are going to get sick and get in car accidents, and they still deserve every right not to have barriers to them getting treatment.

They still show up at the hospitals and eventually somebody has to pay for them. Without healthcare they will get sick and rack up even more healthcare costs, most likely at the emergency room, where taxpayers are already paying for low-income immigrant Medicaid emergency care.

By granting a pathway to citizenship and venues for the same/alternate version of federal benefits granted to authorized American citizens, spending will increase on Medicaid, refundable tax increases, and of course, the administrative costs of dealing with the influx of people. But in the long term, revenue will be recouped from higher income and social security taxes applied to this group of people, and visa processing fees. And let us not forget the economic and social boon that high-skilled immigrant workers, low-skilled immigrant laborers, and DREAM-ers can offer, both tangibly and intangibly.

The 113th congress hopes to accomplish much heading into the next recess in December, and before election season 2014 kicks into full swing. Let’s hope that convincing the House to vote on and for a policy that continues our immigrant tradition, improves our economy, and emboldens our chances of successful health care implementation is a high priority for our elected officials.