As we’ve written here many times, it’s tough to find any justification — outside of political pandering — for the decision by Senate Democrats to prohibit illegal immigrants from buying health coverage on the insurance exchanges proposed under their health reform bill. Sure, it makes those lawmakers appear tough on illegal immigrants. But no one on either side of the aisle has been able to demonstrate how allowing those folks to buy insurance from private companies at full price would threaten the well-being of the nation. In fact, such a prohibition would have the likely consequence of forcing illegal immigrants into emergency rooms rather than encouraging them to get preventive care — an expensive trend for taxpayers, and one that’s been among the chief complaints of those condemning the societal “burdens” posed by illegal immigrants.
Writing in today’s New York Times, Roger Mahony, the cardinal archbishop of Los Angeles, points out several other reasons why the Senate bill makes little sense as it pertains to illegal immigrants.
When undocumented immigrants are intentionally excluded from health care coverage, they are forced to go to the only place where they will be accepted for care: trauma centers and emergency rooms — the most expensive health care delivery systems in the country. What a foolish waste of money, particularly in a time of economic stress for everyone.
Using their own money, undocumented immigrants could receive basic health services through less expensive community clinics and doctors’ offices. Studies have shown that immigrants are generally younger and healthier than citizens, and use health care facilities and resources less frequently. Giving them access to less costly preventive care would help keep them that way. And by paying into the system, immigrants would make health care less pricey for all by spreading the risks and costs among a larger pool of participants.
Not that the Senate language is set in stone. Indeed, the House health care bill, while banning illegal immigrants from gaining subsidies on the exchange, has no such prohibition on their buying insurance at full cost with their own money.
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