Most right-wingers and health care reform haters have at least conceded that there’s language in the House health care bill that explicitly excludes undocumented immigrants, but none of them are willing to swallow their pride and admit that Rep. Joe Wilson’s (R-SC) blow-up was also factually incorrect. Republicans incessantly continue citing “loopholes” that they suggest actually do render President Obama a liar, or at the very least, misinformed.
Wilson has accused “liberals who want to give health care to illegals” of using his opposition to distract from the debate at hand. Rep. Michael Burgess (R-TX) and House Immigration Reform Caucus (HIRC) Chairman, Rep. Brian Bilbray (R-CA) have both suggested that President Obama was either lying or talking about “some other bill.” Former Gov. George Pataki (R-NY) says Obama’s comments raise “questions” and former Rep. Tom Tancredo (R-CO) has also come out of the woodwork to say “Joe is right, Obama is a liar.” Rep. John Fleming (R-LA) said that he was outright insulted by Obama’s myth-breaking, and Rep. John Boehner (R-OH), Rep. Eric Cantor (R-VA), RNC Chairman Michael Steele, and many others have defended Wilson’s position by slamming Democrats for voting down stringent verification mechanisms. Watch it:
Democrats have made it pretty clear that they’re not interested in providing “illegals” health care. Their decision to vote against verification amendments had more to do with the fact that one would’ve given private insurance providers unprecedented access to the sensitive income and identity information and another would have blocked several categories of legal immigrants from receiving benefits. Nonetheless, Sen. Kent Conrad (D-ND) and Sen. Max Baucus (D-MT) have expressed that they’re willing to back down.
Baucus and Conrad should tread carefully. Not only would such a move validate the lies and fears that right-wingers have stoked in both the immigration and health care debates, it could also seriously hurt all Americans. When Colorado passed a series of stringent measures requiring applicants for most state benefits to prove their immigration status, it cost the state $2 million in its first year alone and — despite having promised to eliminate 50,000 undocumented immigrants from the state’s public benefit rolls — state officials could not prove that any undocumented immigrants were being denied public services.
The Government Accountability Office further found that documentation requirements used to prove Medicaid eligibility caused thousands of eligible U.S. citizens to lose Medicaid coverage without saving taxpayers any money: for every $100 spent by taxpayers to implement documentation requirements in six states, only 14 cents were saved. Yesterday, Bilbray announced on CNN that the E-Verify program should be used to check eligibility. However, the Immigration Policy Center points out that the web-based program has a “high probability for database errors.” A human resources association claims that E-Verify has a 4.1% error rate — one that could grow if implemented on a larger scale and deny or dely health care coverage for a sizable percentage of the American population.
It would be one thing if such mechanisms were necessary to block undocumented immigrants from getting health care, but there’s several barriers already in place. The 1996 Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act prohibited undocumented immigrants from being eligible for most public benefits and codified procedures for verifying eligibility. There’s nothing in the bill that changes that or the stringent verification mechanisms in Medicaid discussed above. Tax policy experts have further pointed out that it would be difficult for undocumented immigrants to even apply for subsidies, because tax returns are required to determine a person’s eligibility and the few undocumented immigrants who do file taxes using phony Social Security numbers almost always use “personal identification numbers” from the IRS, which immediately flag their immigration status.
Health-care reform proponents claim that few undocumented immigrants enrolled in Medicaid even before proof of citizenship was required. If that’s true, Republicans are essentially belly-aching over a non-issue. Ultimately, a flawless verification mechanism simply doesn’t exist and it’s probably worse to deny hundreds of thousands (if not millions) of eligible citizens and legal immigrants health care coverage than to let a small handful of ineligible immigrants get health insurance that they need just as much as anyone else.
After all, an effective health care system covers as many people as possible and as Matt Yglesias points out, it’s too bad the President and Democrats are getting pounded for doing something that they’re not, despite the fact that it’s actually not a bad idea if you care more about what makes economic and moral sense and less about what makes sense politically.