No Health Insurance for Illegal Aliens, Democratic Senator Says
May 21, 2009 - 11:38 AMIllegal immigrants won't be entitled to medical insurance under the health legislation Congress is working on, a leading lawmaker said Thursday.
Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., said the health overhaul would cover nearly everyone - 94 percent to 96 percent of the population - but not undocumented workers. Baucus is chairman of the Finance Committee, which has taken the lead in drafting the sweeping legislation.
"We aren't going to cover undocumented workers because that's too politically explosive," Baucus said during a session with reporters, in which he previewed legislation he expects to introduce by mid-June.
President Barack Obama wants Congress to revamp health care this year, and Baucus says he's confident a bill can pass with support from both parties.
Baucus said his bill would build on the current system in which employers, government and individuals share in paying health care costs. It's likely to include a requirement that individuals get insurance coverage, either through an employer, a government plan or on their own. He said the plan will include "incentives" - and perhaps requirements - for employers to help pay.
People would be able to keep the coverage they already have. But those who can't find coverage now - and people who are looking for something better - would be able to buy a plan through a new kind of purchasing pool called an "exchange." Consumers would have a choice of private insurance plans, and most likely, a government-sponsored one as well.
Plans in the exchange would have to offer at least a standard benefits package and wouldn't be able to discriminate against people with health problems. The government would provide subsidies for low- and middle-income households who can't afford the whole premium.
Baucus didn't say how much his plan would cost, but outside estimates have put the price tag in the range of $1.5 trillion over ten years. Most of the money would be raised by making the health care system more efficient, said Baucus. Government programs like Medicare would start paying for the quality of care, not the number of tests and procedures that patients get.
Nonetheless, Baucus said tax increases will be needed to pay the upfront costs of expanding coverage. One of his main revenue-raising options is at odds with Obama's preferences. Baucus wants to limit the tax-free status of job-based health care benefits to raise money and rein in health care spending. Obama says he's opposed to that, but he's left the door open to changing his mind.
Baucus said coverage for all will probably have to be phased in over a number of years - he wouldn't say how many. Even when the legislation is fully implemented some people may still be uninsured.
"The goal is for everybody to have coverage but, by definition, there's a few who slip through the cracks," he said.
Nearly 50 million people now lack health insurance, or about 16 percent of the population.
Baucus said his plan would reduce the share who are uninsured to around 4 percent to 6 percent of the population. That could still amount to 15 million to 20 million uninsured.
Baucus said he's looking at ways to automatically enroll people who try to avoid the requirement to get health insurance. That includes signing them up if they go to the emergency room, or requiring that school children show proof of insurance coverage.
Even though illegal immigrants won't be able to get benefits under the legislation, they can still get health care at hospital emergency rooms and through federally funded community health centers.
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