Comprehensive immigration reform could make millions of people suddenly eligible for assistance under President Obama’s healthcare law, assuming a final deal paves the way for undocumented immigrants to receive papers.
Illegal aliens are now prohibited from purchasing coverage through the Affordable Care Act’s insurance exchanges, which will launch next year.
They are also ineligible for Medicaid under most circumstances, making the law’s expansion of the program fruitless for people without documents.
Even young illegal immigrants with “deferred action” status, known as “DREAMers,” cannot access the law’s benefits.
But the picture could change completely if Hispanic lawmakers get their wish — an overhaul of U.S. immigration policy that includes a path to legalization.
“We have to figure out a way in which [undocumented immigrants] incorporate themselves into the larger workforce, and into our society in general, and not be a burden,” said Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.), a leader in the immigration debate.
“Do we want them to go to the exchanges? Absolutely we do — if and when they don’t have healthcare through their employer,” he said.
Immigration is expected to be a major issue for President Obama’s second term, and advocates like Gutierrez are pushing hard to make reform a reality.
Recent polls show the public is increasingly on board. According to a CNN/ORC poll from Jan. 21, 53 percent want a path to legalization for illegal immigrants — a major shift from 2011, when most wanted Washington focused on deportations.
The consequences for Obama’s signature healthcare law, as well as healthcare providers, could be huge.
Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.), a member of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, said the legalization of undocumented people would benefit hospitals now burdened by uncompensated care.
If nothing changes, undocumented immigrants will be a major share of the uninsured, second only to those who are eligible but do not apply for coverage under the healthcare law in 2014, according to the Urban Institute.
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