Delivering on Promise of Health Care Reform for Immigrants
The forward momentum of immigration reform has raised the hopes and spirits of millions of people in our country. However, as the blueprints for legislation emerge, beginning with the principles set forth by the bi-partisan “Gang of Eight” Senators and President Obama, the danger looms large that lawmakers will repeat some of the terrible mistakes of the past. One notable mistake was the institution of what’s called the “five-year bar”, created under the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Act (PRWORA), passed in 1996, which prevents recent lawful immigrants from having access to federal benefits.
In the health care context, this has meant the denial of Medicaid to recent lawful permanent residents (those with “green cards”) until they have been in the country for five years. As we all know, ongoing preventive medical care, the type offered to low-income residents through the Medicaid program, helps to track and treat illness before it leads to costly emergency room visits.
Still, over the last few days some critics are already poisoning the debate by alleging that our national debt will soar if unauthorized immigrants are made lawfully present and able to access health benefits. Despite what critics may say, the truth is that ensuring immigrants have full access to health care programs and services actually brings down the cost of health care for all of us while also benefiting public health and California’s economy.
A recent report from the Immigration Policy Center showed that California’s undocumented immigrants pay $2.7 billion in sales, income and property taxes. Our state’s immigrants make up a third of the workforce, and California needs the future revenue that immigrant workers provide. From agriculture and domestic work to textile production and construction; California’s immigrant workers keep our state economy running. Ensuring that anyone who earns lawful status has access to health care will surely help us maintain a strong workforce for the future.
With 2.6 million out of 11 million of our nation’s undocumented immigrants living here in California, our state has a colossal stake in the fight for a roadmap to citizenship that does not restrict benefits to any new lawfully present population under immigration reform. Otherwise, there could be a hefty shift of responsibility from the federal government to California’s state and local governments, and we certainly would be disproportionately impacted compared to other states.
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