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Another Immigration Roadbloack for Health Care Reform

September 18, 2009 - by Donny Shaw

The immigration issue is causing even more problems now in the health care reform debate, The Hill reports:

Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) is putting Democrats in a bind by seeking to let illegal immigrants benefit from the healthcare overhaul.

Menendez, the only Hispanic senator, has considerable leverage with Democrats because he may represent the deciding vote on the Senate Finance Committee set to mark up the legislation next week. He’s also the party’s campaign committee chairman, giving him added influence.

Menendez said he is withholding his support for the bill until his concerns about immigration and other matters are addressed.

His objections come one week after President Barack Obama staunchly disputed GOP accusations that the healthcare proposal would aid illegal immigrants — prompting the now-famous “You lie!” outburst from Rep. Joe Wilson (R-S.C.).

This isn’t unexpected, and it’s not really a challenge to President Obama’s goal of making sure the health care bill does not provide insurance for illegal immigrants.

After the immigration issue was brought to the forefront by Joe Wilson’s outburst, Sen. Max Baucus added a new provision to his bill to bar illegal immigrants from participating in the new health insurance exchanges. Thing is, illegal immigrants participating in the exchange is not the problem; the problem is illegal immigrants getting taxpayer-funded subsidies for buying insurance.

Some have argued that even though the House bill contains language banning illegal immigrants form getting subsidies, it doesn’t explicitly contain an enforcement mechanism. That’s a real issues. But allowing illegal immigrants to buy insurance through the new exchanges, including the public plan, wouldn’t cost taxpayers anything. The public option is funded entirely by individual premiums, just like private plans. If illegal immigrants were allowed to participate in the exchange, they would only “benefit” from health care reform to the extent that they would be protected against being denied coverage based on pre-existing conditions, it would be easier for them to comparison-shop plans, and they could get cheaper insurance because increased demand would drive prices down throughout the market.

The politics seem to have taken over rational policy-making on this issue. As Alexander Bolton at The Hill notes, it’s not going to be easy for Senate Democrats to satisfy Menendez’s concerns. “Any concessions making it easier for immigrants to buy insurance could be seized on by opponents who have accused Democrats of planning to subsidize health plans for illegal immigrants,” he writes. The Democrats are in this bind now because they chose to pander to Joe Wilson instead of addressing his concerns where they were reasonable (enforcement of preventing illegal immigrants from getting subsidies), and dismissing them where they were baseless according to the facts of the legislation.

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