Health Care Reform Bills Would Not Verify Citizenship Status of Beneficiaries, Conservative Analysts Say

August 19, 2009 - 5:38 PM
The health care reform bills Congress is considering would not require people who sign up for government health care programs to verify their eligibility. That opens the door for millions of illegal aliens and other non-citizens to receive medical services paid for by taxpayers, conservatives said on Wednesday.

Robert Rector, senor fellow on domestic policy at The Heritage Foundation, spoke on Wednesday about how the current proposed health care legislation could provide taxpayer funded health care to illegal aliens (CNSNews.com/Penny Starr)

(CNSNews.com) – The health care reform bills Congress is considering would not require people who sign up for government health care programs to verify their eligibility. That opens the door for millions of illegal aliens and other non-citizens to receive medical services paid for by taxpayers, a panel of experts from the conservative Center for Immigration Studies (CIS) and The Heritage Foundation said Wednesday.
 
“This takes an unprecedented step in opening up the U.S. welfare system to illegal immigrants,” Robert Rector, senior fellow on domestic policy at The Heritage Foundation, told an audience at the National Press Club in Washington. 
 
“We have had a system of identity checks that largely prevents adult illegal immigrants from getting onto these means-tested welfare programs,” Rector added.

Title II, Subtitle C, Section 246 of the House health care bill (H.R. 3200) stipulates “no federal payment for undocumented aliens.” The Senate bill states that beneficiaries of federal health care programs must be a citizen or national or an alien lawfully admitted to the United States.
 
But neither bill has a provision for verifying citizenship status, according to these experts.
 
Rector said people signing up for government-run health care programs would not have to substantiate that they are in this country legally. “The health care reform legislation turns that on its back and tramples it into the dust,” Rector said. “It basically says, ‘We will not verify, we will not check, we have a complete open door for every illegal immigrant, current and in the future, to simply enroll and receive benefits under this program.’

James Edwards, a fellow at the Center for Immigration Studies, said at the event at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., that the plans don't require people who sign up for government-run health care plans to verify that they are citizens. (CNSNews.com/Penny Starr)

“Essentially these bills expand government health care and taxpayer-funded subsidies for government controlled private insurance in the public option,” James R. Edwards Jr., a fellow at CIS, said at the event. 
 
“They make it easy to enroll new people in government-run health programs with what amounts to built-in willful ignorance about characteristics which would be disqualifying, such as being here on a temporary VISA or being under one’s sponsorship requirements, or being here illegally,” Edwards added.
 
Citizen verification amendments defeated
 
Edwards said two amendments proposed in the House to require verification of citizenship and other qualifications were voted down and that Senate legislation also lacks any kind of verification provision.
 
“Congressman Dean Heller (R-Nev.) offered an amendment in the Ways and Means Committee to correct that, but it was defeated along party lines,” Edwards said. “Senate legislation omits the same eligibility verification requirements that would ensure that only lawful immigrants and U.S. citizens benefit under these programs."
 
Edwards noted that during the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s markup, Rep. Nathan Deal (R-Ga.) offered an amendment that would require a check on immigration and citizenship status of those being signed up for Medicaid. “It would apply the same verification standards and use the same existing verification system that’s in the Medicaid statute. This taxpayer protection amendment lost on a largely party line vote, by a single vote,” Edwards said.
 
Aliens exempt from fines
 
The Senate Finance Committee has released only an outline of its health care plan -- not a full draft -- and that outline penalizes U.S. citizens and legal residents while allowing illegal aliens access to free health care, Edwards said.
 
“The Finance Committee outline, like the HELP and the House bills, mandates that individuals must carry health insurance or else face a fine,” Edwards said. “The Finance outline says that illegal aliens will be exempt from that individual mandate. It sets up a system where you’ve got Americans and legal immigrants who have to have coverage or else pay a fine,” Edwards said. “But illegal aliens would escape the mandate and any fine for not being insured.
 
“It appears that this sets up for illegal aliens to be free riders of sorts,” Edwards said. “They still receive taxpayer-funded medical services at health clinics and hospitals required to serve those (with) a medical emergency. Yet illegal aliens would be free from any responsibility or sanction that other people would bear.”

Panelists said the current health care legislation could, in fact, not only benefit illegal aliens but actually encourage more people to come into this country illegally. Rector called it a system that would establish “transnational welfare outreach.”
 
“In short, the health reform plans that are on the table will create new incentives, at least marginally, for illegal immigration,” Edwards said. “They’ll reward illegal aliens by giving them health care at no expense to themselves and they’ll further weaken the important public charge doctrine that has long served our national immigration policy so well.”
 
The “public charge doctrine” dates back to colonial days and was designed to prevent immigrants who did not meet certain income or skill requirements that could lead them to become a burden on society from entering the country.
 
Rector said immigrants already account for $100 billion of the $700 billion spent annually in the United States helping low-income people, including health care services.

Steven Camarota, director of research at CIP, presented a statistical analysis at the event showing the impact of immigration on health care costs in the United States. Details can be found here.