What began as a bug in ObamaCare has now become a feature, according to Rep. Michael Honda (D-CA). The chair of the Congressional Asian-Pacific American Caucus now says that the government exchanges should cover immigrants, regardless of their legal status:
Fearful that they’re losing ground on immigration and health care, a group of House Democrats is pushing back and arguing that any health care bill should extend to all legal immigrants and allow illegal immigrants some access.
The Democrats, trying to stiffen their party’s spines on the contentious issue, say it’s unfair to bar illegal immigrants from paying their own way in a government-sponsored exchange. Legal immigrants, they say, regardless of how long they’ve been in the United States, should be able to get government-subsidized health care if they meet the other eligibility requirements.
“Legal permanent residents should be able to purchase their plans, and they should also be eligible for subsidies if they need it. Undocumented, if they can afford it, should be able to buy their own private plans. It keeps them out of the emergency room,” said Rep. Michael M. Honda, California Democrat and chairman of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus.
There are two problems with this approach. First, anyone can buy private insurance now, regardless of their status. No one prevents illegal immigrants from buying insurance policies. This is a big red herring.
The issue with legal immigrants is another problem. Since legal immigrants pay taxes and enter the country legally, they are already eligible for the tax benefits and subsidies provided by the federal government. However, as the Washington Times notes, the US has in the past set a waiting time to keep legal immigrants from accessing welfare programs for the first five years that they live in the US, in order to keep the US from being a welfare magnet. Honda wants to eliminate that barrier.
Honda is being disingenuous on the question of illegal immigrants and ObamaCare. They will have to buy the policies through government-run exchanges, where federal subsidy programs will exist. Honda apparently thinks that he can split hairs here and say that illegals won’t get subsidies from these same exchanges, but what Honda has not done is provide any enforcement mechanisms to keep them from receiving these subsidies. One can insert language into a bill stating that illegal aliens cannot receive benefits from the program in any number of places in the legislation — which Democrats have already done — but unless there is a mechanism for requiring proof of legal residency in the system, they will receive the subsidies simply by applying for them.
Democrats, by the way, defeated an amendment over the summer that would have provided such a mechanism.
Now, instead of following Barack Obama’s lead in insisting that illegal immigrants would get excluded from the system, Honda and his colleagues are claiming that inclusion is actually a big plus for the program. I doubt that voters will see it that way, and it undermines the claim that concern over federal dollars going to illegals is some kind of “myth”. As a political strategy, it’s sheer folly.