Following Rep. Joe Willon’s (R, SC) outburst druing the President’s speech, the Obama administration has scrambled to show that it will guarantee no reasonable means of healthcare for people in the US illegally. That position strikes many people as sensible. But it’s not only cruel, unfair, and unmanageable, it actually undermines the very effort to secure affordable, reliable healthcare for everyone.
No one in power is even talking about government health care for all (that’s a plan that would really work). Instead, the proposal is simply to require everyone to get health care insurance, through a government-managed insurance exchange, employer-provided group coverage, or private insurance. With a large pool of buyers in the exchange, it’s possible that health care costs could be controlled.
Denying undocumented workers and their families access to both the exchange and employer-provided group coverage means that very few will have insurance of any kind. This, in turn, will increase demands on expensive emergency room care, whose costs are ultimately borne by the government and individuals with private insurance.
Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D, IL) put it this way last week:
So, and remember, we’re not talking about government health care, we’re talking about everybody is going to be required to get health care insurance,” said Gutierrez. “And so as we go to this big store, right, where everybody is required. And this exchange, the health care exchange, where if you don’t have health care you are required to go purchase it. When you go and attempt to purchase it, what does the administration say? The administration says, ‘You will have to prove that you are legally in the United States and have a Social Security number and a right to that.’
Some immigrants, and let me say it – hundreds of thousands of them — who have businesses, who are prospering, who are paying taxes— even when they wish to buy because it’s going to be a requirement to buy it, this administration has told them don’t buy. You can’t. You can’t buy.
One thing that could make the exchange work is to bring in large numbers of relatively healthy people. New immigrants use 55% less health care than native-born Americans, according to a Harvard/Columbia University study (Physicians for a National Health Program, 2005).
Denying health insurance is foolish and spiteful. It’s also absurd: We should demand that immigrants share the burden of paying for healthcare, not exclude them in a way that ultimately endangers not only theirs, but everyone’s health and finances.
See also The bottom line in health care.
Physicians for a National Health Program (2005, July 27). Immigrants’ health care costs are low.