You may have seen or heard this commercial that’s been airing on television and radio for the past several months. It’s part of a campaign by the affordable healthcare advocacy group, The California Endowment, to highlight the fact that undocumented immigrants won’t be able to share in the benefits of the Affordable Care Act when it is fully implemented in January. California has an estimated 2.5 million undocumented immigrants and they make up about a quarter of the state’s population that will be left uninsured after ACA takes effect.
Unfortunately, the immigration reform bill currently being debated in Congress doesn’t adequately address the problem. Although the bill would provide a pathway to legal status for the country’s 11 million undocumented immigrants, it still bars them from access to federal health programs like Medicaid, while keeping them ineligible to qualify for federal subsidies to buy health insurance for at least a decade. Never mind that undocumented immigrants still pay taxes.
Legalizing the undocumented while restricting their access to health care is not only cruel, but economically misguided. Increasing the number of people who can get affordable insurance would expand the pool and lower premium costs. Saddling immigrants with unnecessary debt would cut into their ability to consume and help contribute to the economy.
Shutting out immigrants from healthcare reform will maintain the burden on our overcrowded emergency rooms, as immigrants seek out these facilities for their primary care. Uncompensated ER costs are then shifted onto taxpayers and onto those with health insurance in the form of higher premiums.
Providing everyone with access to health care, regardless of immigration status, is not only is the moral thing to do, but it also makes economic sense.