108th Congress To Address Measure To Provide Legal Immigrants with Immediate Access to Public Health Programs
Members of Congress next year will likely consider legislation to allow documented immigrants to have immediate access to public health insurance programs after a similar bill failed to pass in the 107th Congress, CongressDaily reports. Earlier this year, Sen. Bob Graham (D-Fla.) sponsored an amendment to a bill to reauthorize the 1996 Welfare Reform Act that would have ended a provision in the law that requires documented immigrants to wait five years before they can have access to programs such as Medicaid and increased access to services under the CHIP program (Fulton, CongressDaily, 12/9). The Senate Finance Committee in June approved the welfare legislation with the Graham amendment (California Healthline, 6/27). However, the bill never reached the Senate floor for a vote. The House in May passed a different welfare bill (HR 4737) that did not include the language in the Graham amendment.
The Senate Finance Committee will likely consider the welfare legislation, including the Graham amendment, a second time next year. Democrats and some moderate Republicans on the committee are expected to support the provision, but it will likely face opposition from conservative Republicans. A House Ways and Means Committee spokesperson said that the House next year would not likely pass a welfare bill that includes the language in the Graham amendment. In addition, HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson said in a Nov. 4 letter to Graham that the Bush administration expects Spanish-language outreach programs and state waivers to help address the issue of health care for documented immigrants and does not support the language in the Graham amendment. "As you know, the five-year ban Congress enacted reflected a public policy that sponsors of immigrants would be responsible for the needs, including the health care needs, of individuals newly arriving in the United States. Thus, any consideration of revising the ban would have ramifications far beyond the Medicaid program," Thompson wrote (CongressDaily, 12/9).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.