Reform, immigrants, and coverage

REFORM, IMMIGRANTS, AND COVERAGE…. There’s been a fair amount of interest over the last 36 hours over what kind of benefits health care reform might bring to immigrants. President Obama explained in his speech to Congress, “[T]he reforms I’m proposing would not apply to those who are here illegally.” Rep. Joe Wilson (R-S.C.), as you may have heard, had a different view. This afternoon, Republican officials still maintain Wilson was right and Obama was wrong.

It’s really not that complicated. Under reform, the uninsured would be eligible for subsidies to help them afford coverage. Would undocumented immigrants be able to receive these subsidies? No, the legislation prohibits it. Republicans, however, want explicit prohibitions preventing undocumented immigrants from purchasing coverage through a health care exchange with their own money.

As Aravosis, among others, noted this morning, Time reported that some center-right Democrats were prepared to edit the bill and accept the right-wing demands.

The controversy over Republican Rep. Joe Wilson’s shouting out “You Lie!” at the President over his claim that illegal immigrants wouldn’t benefit from health-care reform apparently sparked some reconsideration of the relevant language. “We really thought we’d resolved this question of people who are here illegally, but as we reflected on the President’s speech last night we wanted to go back and drill down again,” said Senator Kent Conrad, one of the Democrats in the talks after a meeting Thursday morning. Baucus later that afternoon said the group would put in a proof of citizenship requirement to participate in the new health exchange — a move likely to inflame the left.

That certainly sounded crazy. It would not only reward Wilson’s buffoonery by giving him exactly what he demands, but such a change would prevent immigrants from buying health care insurance with their own money.

This afternoon, Conrad clarified matters.

Sen. Kent Conrad (D-ND) told reporters today that while non-citizens won’t be barred, under Senate Finance Committee legislation from entering health insurance exchanges, the exchanges themselves will require all consumers to show proof of citizenship, in order to insure that undocumented residents don’t receive any federal subsidies.

“You can’t prevent someone from being able to purchase insurance,” Conrad said. “They would not get any government assistance…. What we’re trying to prevent is anybody who is here illegally from getting any federal benefit.”

That’s not as bad as originally thought, but this isn’t exactly a good move, either.