Senate Health Care Bill Clamps Down on Subsidies for Illegal Immigrants

GOP looks to ensure only citizens, legal residents will be eligible for insurance premium assistance

by Margaret Menge | Updated 26 Jun 2017 at 7:10 AM

Americans may be surprised to learn that scores of illegal immigrants have been allowed to get a subsidy for Obamacare premiums — allowing them to pay very little, or nothing at all, for world-class health care, courtesy of taxpayers.

But that may be changing.

Included in the current draft of the GOP health care bill in the U.S. Senate is a provision that would tighten the eligibility requirements and allow only legal, permanent residents of the U.S. (green-card holders) and those granted asylum to be eligible for the subsidy.

“What they’re trying to do is encouraging,” Robert Law of the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) told LifeZette.

Under Obamacare, several categories of illegal immigrants have been able to apply to get health care coverage through one of the exchanges, and to have their premiums reduced, or totally covered, by the government. They are people who fall under the category of "lawfully present" immigrants — a broad category that includes many who came to the U.S. illegally and whose deportation was deferred by the Obama administration, and who were given "parole" status. It also includes the tens of thousands of citizens of other countries who are living in the U.S. under "Temporary Protected Status."

There were 439,625 people living in the U.S. under the TPS program at the end of 2016, according to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. And the program is often not as temporary as its name would imply. Some foreigners have been living in the U.S. under this program for more than 15 years. The TPS program was recently extended for another six months — for example, for 50,000 Haitians who came to the U.S. following the earthquake there more than seven years ago.

The 1996 welfare reform bill, which a Republican Congress passed, and President Bill Clinton signed into law, said that only "qualified" aliens would be eligible to receive federal, means-tested programs and that they could not receive such benefits in the first five years after coming to the U.S. But it was determined that Obamacare, officially the Affordable Care Act, was not a means-tested program.

The result is that many non-citizens, including those who came to the U.S. illegally, became immediately eligible for Obamacare, along with subsidies to cover the entire cost of premiums, if their reported earnings were low enough.

But Obamacare is only one federal benefit that illegal immigrants have been able to get.

A 2015 study by the Center for Immigration Studies, based on government numbers, estimated that more than 50 percent of households in the U.S. with at least one illegal immigrant worker were Medicaid recipients, 23 percent get coupons for free food through the WIC (Women, Infants and Children) program, and 21 percent are getting food stamps, usually through their U.S.-born children.

According to FAIR, the total amount the U.S. government spends on illegal immigrants per year is $113 billion.

The current draft of the Senate health care law that would replace Obamacare specifies that only people who are "qualified aliens" would be eligible for subsidies to cover their health care premiums through the federal health care program.

"It's laid out in statute and it's very narrow, so it's very encouraging," Law said of the language in the Senate bill.

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