The "Myth" that Health Care Reform Won't Cover Illegal Aliens, Is Itself a Myth

Ira Mehlman
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Posted: Aug 27, 2009 3:35 PM
The professional chattering class - the men and women who appear on television and radio and explain how the world works to the rest of us- are fond of castigating politicians who vote on complex legislation without having read the bills. It seems the politicians are not the only ones who refuse to let ignorance get in the way of expressing an opinion.

As the summer of discontent drags on, the news media are replete with reports about raucous town hall meetings filled with angry constituents upset about various aspects of H.R. 3200, the America's Affordable Health Care Act of 2009 (AAHCA). At town hall meetings, Members of Congress intrepid enough to actually face the people they represent have been asked to address why H.R. 3200 will allow illegal aliens to obtain publicly-funded health care.

Perhaps more than any other criticism of the health care reform bill, it is this assertion that drives the Washington pundits crazy. It also serves, in their minds, as a prime example of how the public is being whipped into a frenzy by President Obama's political adversaries.

"Pants on fire," declares the politifacts.com website, calling the assertion that illegal aliens would benefit from the program a blatant lie. NBC Nightly News found a health care expert from academia to flatly dismiss the concerns of the hysterical masses. So did the Orwellian named CNN Truth Squad, which called in another academic health care expert to deny that illegal aliens would be covered under the House bill. For those who might have missed the first verdict, Anderson Cooper assembled a group of political experts a few nights later who similarly ruled that concerned citizens have regrettably been drinking the Kool-Aid served up by opponents of the bill.

What all of these "experts," like a lot of members of Congress who will be voting on the bill, have in common is that they haven't read the bill, or, if they have, they failed to take note of what is not in the bill. Nowhere does H.R. 3200 say that illegal aliens are ineligible to enroll in the proposed "public option." To the contrary, Section 202 provides that "all individuals" are eligible for benefits offered through the government exchange unless they are enrolled in another health insurance plan.

Then we come to the portion of the bill relating to payment and subsidies. Section 246 states that illegal aliens are ineligible for government "affordability credits" (the subsidies that will allow people to purchase private insurance), which seems to be as far as most of the pundits have read. Saying that illegal aliens are ineligible is one thing; providing an enforcement mechanism to ensure that ineligible persons do not obtain this benefit is another matter. Section 246 lacks an eligibility verification requirement, thus rendering the prohibition against subsidies for illegal aliens meaningless.

The complete omission of language barring illegal aliens from coverage under a government-run insurance program, and the Mack Truck-size loophole in the affordability credit provision, are not mere oversights. Section 245 contains three pages of text directing the government to verify income eligibility for this new health insurance program. The authors of the bill, however, did not seem to think similar verification requirements for immigration status was important enough to also include in the bill.

Fortunately, at least one member of the House Ways & Means Committee, a key committee involved in crafting the bill, did notice that these restrictions were missing. Rep. Dean Heller (R-Nev.) offered an amendment that would have applied the same eligibility verification procedures already in place for Medicaid to the new plan in H.R.3200. These verification requirements have been on the books for years. But, in a straight party-line vote, every Democrat on the Ways & Means Committee voted against the Heller amendment.

Members of Congress who defend H.R. 3200 want to be able to tell their constituents, the American people, that illegal aliens will not receive coverage. At the same time, they are winking at the open borders lobby (who insist that illegal aliens must be covered) and assuring these special interest groups that nothing in the bill will actually prevent illegal aliens from benefiting. Even the well known Capitol Hill journal Roll Call has reported how the Congressional Hispanic Caucus has been lobbying House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to leave the bill in its current form, because those members understand the bill will allow backdoor health coverage for illegal aliens.

What is harder to explain is why the self-appointed watchdogs and truth squads in the media so vehemently insist that the case is closed on the subject of whether illegal aliens would qualify for coverage under AAHCA. It is one thing to read language that is in the bill and come to a different conclusion about what it means. It is quite another to pontificate about language and restrictions that are not there at all.

Still the pundits, who adamantly deny that the bill covers illegal aliens, refuse to address perhaps the most important question: If President Obama and Congress agree that the bill should not cover illegal aliens, why would Congress defeat language that makes it crystal clear that the bill will achieve their stated objective?