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Finance Panel Shoots Down GOP Amendment to Keep Legal Residents From Getting Care

Deep into the Senate Finance Committee’s marathon debate over health care reform, Democrats Thursday night killed a GOP proposal that would have forced legal immigrants to wait five years before getting federal subsidies on the proposed state insurance exchanges.

Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.), sponsor of the amendment, said it would simply align exchange policies with those of Medicaid, which requires the five-year waiting period for legal immigrants. “I would like to preserve the law as it is,” he said.

But Democrats were having none of it. Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) said the Kyl proposal, aside from treating legal residents like second-class citizens, would also put those folks in the tough position of being forced to buy insurance without lending the means to do so. “That clearly is a Catch 22,” he said.

As Daphne pointed out recently, Republicans have exploited the hot-button immigration issue so successfully in the health reform debate that Finance Committee Democrats have gone so far as to exclude illegal immigrants from buying even unsubsidized insurance on the exchange. It’s purely a political move, for no one — on Capitol Hill or off — has offered a good explanation for how allowing folks to buy insurance coverage from private companies using U.S. dollars could harm the country. Indeed, it would likely keep those people out of emergency rooms, saving taxpayer dollars.

The debate has grown so absurd that it feels, at times, like some voices don’t care to distinguish between legal immigrants and illegal immigrants. As Menendez said, under Kyl’s waiting-period amendment, “legal permanent residents” would be prevented from availing a benefit “that they helped to fund.”

The Kyl amendment fell by a count of 10 to 13, along strict party lines.

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