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ObamaCare health law could add millions of immigrants

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
January 28th, 2013
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

If Hispanic lawmakers get their wish, an overhaul of U.S. immigration policy could include a pathway to legalization. "We have to figure out a way in which [undocumented immigrants] incorporate themselves into the larger workforce, and into our society in general, and not be a burden," Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.), a leader in the immigration debate said.

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - "Do we want them to go to the exchanges? Absolutely we do - if and when they don't have healthcare through their employer," Gutierrez said.

Immigration reform could make millions of immigrants eligible for assistance under President Obama's healthcare law, assuming a final deal paves the way for undocumented immigrants to receive papers. Illegal immigrants are currently prohibited from purchasing coverage through the Affordable Care Act's insurance exchanges, which begins in 2014.

They are also ineligible for Medicaid under most circumstances. Even the young illegal immigrants with "deferred action" status, known as "DREAMers," cannot access the law's benefits.

According to a CNN/ORC poll last week, 53 percent want a path to legalization for illegal immigrants, which represents a major shift from 2011, when most wanted Washington focused on deportations.

Therefore, the consequences for Obama's signature healthcare law, as well as healthcare providers, could be huge.

If nothing changes, undocumented immigrants will be a major share of the uninsured, according to the Urban Institute. Federal reimbursement for uncompensated care was also slashed under the Affordable Care Act, raising the stakes for hospitals that serve low-income populations.

"I think hospitals and healthcare providers would see it as a huge plus," Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.), a member of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus says. "The bottom line is, these people would be contributing toward their own healthcare and not being dependent. They'd be paying taxes. I'd see that as a plus rather than a negative," he said.

The idea of providing "ObamaCare" benefits to immigrants has long inflamed partisan rancor, prompting Rep. Joe Wilson (R-S.C.) to shout "You lie!" during Obama's 2009 healthcare address on the House floor.

Sarah Hale, director of healthcare policy at the American Action Forum, cautioned that it is far too early to predict whether a new immigration policy would raise the health law's tab.

"There are three or four moving parts that could push the cost one way or the other, like state choices on the Medicaid expansion," she said.

"But if there are a huge swath of people who are newly eligible for an insurance subsidy or for Medicaid, then naturally that is going to impact the budget number."

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