5 Answers to Questions About Immigration and Healthcare

Some House Republicans want to limit immigrant access to healthcare.

ByTed Hesson
June 06, 2013, 12:14 PM

June 6, 2013— -- You've probably heard more about the immigration reform effort in the Senate, but there's also a group of Democrats and Republicans in the House working on a bill, albeit without much progress so far.

That "Gang of Eight" hit a snag yesterday when it lost the support of Rep. Raul Labrador (R-Idaho), who brought strong conservative credentials to their effort to rework immigration laws.

Labrador left the group because of a dispute over healthcare.

Basically, he didn't want undocumented immigrants who were becoming legal to have access to federally subsidized health insurance.

"I believe in my opinion that unless you make them personally responsible for health insurance, that it's the taxpayer that's going to pay," Labrador told Politico on Wednesday.

His stance didn't fit with the other members of the group, who will continue working on a bill.

The healthcare issue won't be going away, though. Here are answers to a few questions that are sure to come up, with input from the National Immigration Law Center, an immigrant rights organization with some great resources on the issue:

1. Do Undocumented Immigrants Get Federal Health Insurance?

Right now, people in the country without authorization don't have access to most federal healthcare, like Medicaid.

But people can receive emergency Medicaid in certain situations, and if they meet income requirements and other eligibility rules.

People without papers are also able to seek non-emergency health services at community health centers or safety-net hospitals.

2. Would the Senate Immigration Bill Give Undocumented Immigrants Healthcare?

Even people who would be able to legalize under the Senate bill wouldn't have access to government programs like Medicaid and food stamps unless they become legal permanent residents, which would take at least a decade under the plan.

After that decade, immigrants who qualify to become legal permanent residents would need to wait another five years to be eligible for those programs, or naturalize. Either way you're talking about a 13 to 15 year wait.

3. Can Legal Immigrants Get Medicaid?

Sometimes. Prior to 1996, most legal immigrants were eligible for federal benefits.

But a law passed that year said that only certain types of immigrants -- legal permanent residents, refugees, asylees and some others -- could have access to benefits like Medicaid.

Under that law, permanent residents need to be in the country for five years before they have access to Medicaid. The Affordable Care Act won't change that.

Under the Affordable Care Act, there are other ways for immigrants to get health coverage, though.

States can offer Medicaid to pregnant women and children who are in the country legally, but don't qualify under federal guidelines. About half of states have opted to do that. A handful of states offer similar programs for undocumented immigrants.

4. Will Immigrants Be Required to Buy Insurance Under Obamacare?

Legal immigrants, yes. Undocumented immigrants, no.

Along those lines, legal immigrants will have access to federally subsidized insurance programs, but undocumented immigrants won't.

Most undocumented immigrants who would legalize under the Senate bill would not be required to buy health insurance while in their 10-year-long provisional status. They would also not have access to federally subsidized insurance plans until they become legal permanent residents, at least a decade down the road.

5. What's the Argument Against Requiring Undocumented Immigrants to Buy Insurance?

The idea is that if you're going to require people to buy insurance, there should be affordable options. If you exclude certain immigrants from accessing the cheaper, government-backed options, that could make the obligation unbearable

It's not clear what kind of legislation Raul Labrador thinks would be best, but if you required immigrants to buy healthcare but didn't offer them the affordable choices available to everyone else, you could essentially cause people to "self-deport."

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