Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-IL) was the first Latino Congressman to endorse President Obama in his campaign. Now that the administration is looking amenable to assuaging the concerns of Joe “You Lie!” Wilson regarding access to health insurance for immigrants, Obama is at risk of losing support from Hispanic members of Congress. Gutierrez is pushing back hard against Obama and the fundamental misplacement of priorities when it comes to how available insurance will be for immigrants in any reform plan.
“What is the administration’s answer?” asked Gutierrez. “To give him exactly what he said from this hatred. Because now, the administration has told us that if we’re going to have reform of our health care system … all those that go to the private sector in order to get their health care, that they will verify them. They will verify Social Security; they will verify their status in the United States of America.”
“So, and remember, we’re not talking about government health care, we’re talking about everybody is going to be required to get health care insurance,” said Gutierrez. “And so as we go to this big store, right, where everybody is required. And this exchange, the health care exchange, where if you don’t have health care you are required to go purchase it. When you go and attempt to purchase it, what does the administration say? The administration says, ‘You will have to prove that you are legally in the United States and have a Social Security number and a right to that.'”
Yesterday Matt Yglesias had an important post that highlighted how wrong it is from a policy standpoint to have an immigration status check as part of the delivery of health care and health insurance. In short, because most immigrants tend to be younger members of the work force, they are healthier and thus require less care. As a result, their participation in the pool of the insured lowers the risk and thus lowers the cost of health insurance for everyone. In short, excluding immigrants from the health insurance exchange or barring the ability of undocumented immigrants to buy insurance at all is bad policy driven by spite and xenophobia, not any actual grounding in health care economics. It makes reform more expensive and puts a much greater risk on the system by driving people to use expensive emergency room care as their primary doctor. It’s reckless, stupid, and inhumane…and both the Obama administration and Democrats in Congress need to change their course.
I now see that the New York Times Prescription blog is reporting that Baucus, Conrad, and the White House all agree that undocumented immigrants should not be allowed to buy health insurance through the insurance exchange. All presume that there will be some other way for them to buy insurance, but it’s not clear what would exist outside of the exchange.