One of the benefits of having status in the United States is having access to government health benefits. Some of these benefits include Medicare, Medicaid, and Disability Benefits. For some of these government programs, being a Legal Permanent Resident for a certain amount of time makes applicants eligible, so long as they meet the other criteria. However, Congress is not even considering extending these benefits to the 11 million undocumented immigrants whose possibility for status adjustment is being debated in the plan to pass immigration reform. Even providing tax credits to the now undocumented immigrants who reform would apply to, or the chance of purchasing their own coverage through insurance exchanges, is not being discussed as a possibility.
With immigration reform already being a controversial issue, particularly for Republicans, many representatives fear the backlash that may result from allowing the Affordable Care Act to cover those put on a path to citizenship should the legislation pass the House. The version of the bill that passed in the Senate bars any health benefits for those immigrants directly affected by the reform for a ten-year period, a compromise made by some Senators in order to see the legislation pass. Republicans originally wanted to make this a permanent ban but finally conceded.
Denying these people of adequate health care does not only affect them, it affects everyone living under the American health system and economy. Insufficient care for such a large population can mean an overall decline in public health, which all Americans will pay for. As it is, people who get sick and are here illegally are relying on donations, alternative medication, and ignoring their ailments because they are left with no choice. Many of these immigrants are forced to visit the emergency room, where it would be illegal to deny them treatment. The costs of emergency room care are way higher than at a regular clinic and, without insurance, nearly impossible for people to pay. The cost is left to the hospital, and inadvertently other patients all over the country.
Immigration reform is addressing a significant problem in the United States. However, Congress’s approach appears to ignore one of the biggest issues that undocumented immigrants face, health care. The issue of health care as it relates to immigration must be addressed, as it is also one of the biggest problems that comes with having undocumented people in our society.