Recently there has been a surge in the number of immigrant children crossing illegally into the United States through the southern border. This crisis provides us with the opportunity to take a closer look at immigration reform policy and how current legislation is creating more gaps in access to health care for immigrants.
In June 2013, the Senate passed immigration reform bill S.744, the Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act. Its main focus is on border enforcement, allocating $46 billion to improve border control. It also prevents some immigrants from access to health insurance benefits. Under S.744, lawful immigrants are ineligible for tax breaks or subsidies to participate in the health insurance exchange. Under the Affordable Care Act (2010), all “lawful prospective immigrants” (LPI), including children, are determined ineligible to receive safety net benefits including Medicaid, CHIP, SNAP, TANF, and SSI.
Children in immigrant families make up nearly one in four of all children in the US. In 2010, the median household income for non-US citizens was $25,000, roughly half the median income of citizen households. Compared to citizen children, the children of US immigrants disproportionately experience hunger, lack a sense of security, and are unable to see a doctor when they are ill. This is the result of no access to safety net programs.
If immigration reform legislation does not change to include health care access, millions of immigrants will enter an already over burdened system of uninsured patients. They could increase the strain on federally qualified health centers and providers who already struggle to treat them.
Since the passing of S.744, the US House of Representatives introduced its version of similar legislation, H.R. 15, but it has stalled. Urge your legislators to focus on increasing access to health care and safety net programs to all immigrants.
Sarah Gammons, MD
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