The Real Threat to a Healthy America: Opponents of Health Reform Add Sickening Barriers to Affordable Health Care
By Reshma Shamasunder and Sonal Ambegaokar
Health care reform, the biggest battle on Capitol Hill, is coming to communities across America as Congress breaks for August recess. A major concern for Asian Americans and immigrants in general is that Congress refuses to eliminate existing barriers to health care for legal immigrants, and also threatens to add NEW restrictions to health care specifically targeting legal immigrant families in its proposed bills. This would clearly take us backwards from where we are today with health reform because these restrictions would inexcusably continue the discrimination in our health care system. We cannot let a very small minority in Congress prevent our country from being able to buy quality, affordable health care.
Current State of Play
In general, the pending federal proposals include a requirement that everyone in the U.S., regardless of age, income, or immigration status, obtain health insurance coverage for themselves and their immediate family members. This is often known as the “individual mandate” requirement. We, as consumers, will be able to more easily find and buy health insurance through a new marketplace, called the Exchange. The Exchange will allow competing health insurers to offer different health plans to consumers who then can choose which plan is best for them and their family’s needs. In order to make sure everyone can purchase the required health insurance, the federal government will be providing subsidies, or “affordability credits” to help offset the cost of insurance for low and middle income individuals and families. Without access to these subsidies, many people will likely not be able to afford health insurance even in the new Exchange, and as a result will remain uninsured, risking tax penalty and nights in the emergency room.
5 Year Waiting Period for Immigrants to Buy Affordable Health Insurance
Already, current health reform proposals EXPLICITLY exclude undocumented immigrants from obtaining any kind of subsidy.
But now, even lawfully present immigrants face exclusion from affordable health care. A small minority of lawmakers in Congress, representing states with little racial/ethnic diversity in their population, are trying to ADD a mandatory five year waiting period for these immigrants before they can apply for subsidies for health insurance. This means low and middle income lawfully present immigrants would remain ineligible for any subsidies for health insurance for the first five years after they enter the country, even though citizens with the same or higher income would get these subsidies. And remember, immigrants, regardless of how long they have been in the country, are required to pay federal and state taxes, which will be used to pay for these subsidies for which they are prohibited from even applying.
And because of the individual mandate, they would still be required to buy health insurance at full cost. If they can’t and remain uninsured, they’ll have to pay a tax penalty.
This restriction will leave a whole population of legal immigrants, who work and pay taxes, without access to affordable health care. Without insurance, they will be forced to delay health care, jeopardizing their health, and could be only one illness or accident from medical bankruptcy. This is definitely not the American Dream for which immigrants come to the U.S.
The American Dream Includes Immigrants
The American public and many in Congress oppose a waiting period for health care for lawfully present immigrants. Despite this, a vocal minority in Congress refuses to eliminate this waiting period and in fact, wants more restrictions. This small group of lawmakers is clearly out of step and contradicts who we are as a nation. And despite all these restrictions against immigrants, opponents of health reform have and will continue to lie about which immigrants get access to health care under these proposals simply to try to kill health care reform. This minority of voices also is out of step with the nation – a nation of reasonable people who want the country to move forward together, whatever one’s race, ethnicity, or income. After all, that is really what the American Dream is all about.
To express your opposition to this very small and out of step group of lawmakers’ attempts to restrict and penalize immigrants and their family members, please call or email your state’s two Senators and your Congressional Representative with the following message:
- Your constituents want you to SUPPORT and make sure health reform eliminates existing waiting periods and other barriers to health care for lawfully present immigrants in the U.S.
- Your constituents want you to OPPOSE any attempt to add new waiting periods or restrictions that would prevent lawfully present immigrants from buying affordable health care insurance.
Share this with at least 5 of your friends, family, and colleagues and have them call their Senators and Congressional Representative with this message too so that our government is accountable and will make decisions that truly represent all of us.
Reshma Shamasunder is the Director of the California Immigrant Policy Center, which seeks to inform public debate and policy decisions on issues affecting the state’s immigrants.
Sonal Ambegaokar is the Health Policy Attorney at the National Immigration Law Center, a national organization that seeks to advance the rights of low income immigrants.