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Immigration and Health Care Under the Trump Administration [from Health Affairs Blog]

PHLW is back with this post by our own Wendy E. Parmet on the Health Affairs Blog.  The piece about the current state of immigration and health care comes out of her recent presentation at the Harvard Law School Petrie-Flom Center Sixth Annual Health Law Year in P/Review in December 2016.

Immigration and Health Care Under the Trump Administration

by Wendy E. Parmet

Non-citizen immigrants are the canaries in the health care coal mine. Disproportionately poor, non-white, and non-English speaking, and without access to the franchise, they are among the most vulnerable groups in the United States. Consequently, they are often the first to experience the gaps, inefficiencies, and conflicts in our health care system. Meanwhile, anti-immigrant sentiment often spills into health policy debates, as was evident in 2009 when opponents of the bill that became the Affordable Care Act(ACA) focused their opposition on the erroneous claim that it would cover undocumented immigrants. It is therefore not surprising that the first year of the Trump administration, which has focused its domestic agenda on restricting immigration and repealing the ACA, has proven especially perilous for immigrants who need health care.

As a group, immigrants tend to be healthier than the native-born population. They are also far less likely to have insurance. In 2015, for example, 18 percent of lawfully present nonelderly adult immigrants, and 42 percent of undocumented immigrants were uninsured, compared to only 11 percent of United States citizens. Immigrants’ low insurance rate is partly due to the fact that they disproportionately work in sectors of the economy in which employer-sponsored insurance is uncommon. But the law also plays a significant role. Even before the Trump administration took office, immigrants faced an array of legal barriers to obtaining health insurance. Most importantly, the 1996 Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act (PROWRA) prohibited undocumented immigrants from accessing most federally-funded insurance programs (including Medicaid, Medicare and Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP)). PRWORA also barred most authorized immigrants (except refugees) from benefiting from federally-funded programs for five years after obtaining legal status. And although the ACA made it easier for many documented immigrants to gain coverage, it left PROWRA in place. The ACA also limited participation in the exchanges to immigrants who are “lawfully present,” a category that the Obama administration decided did not include the approximately 800,000 young adults who participated in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. 

The Trump administration’s policies threaten to swell the number of uninsured immigrants, and deter those who have insurance from accessing needed care. For example, several of last year’s Republican proposals to repeal and replace the ACA included specific provisions to bar further classes of immigrants from purchasing insurance on the exchanges, even when they used their own moneyOther proposals would have allowed states to deny Medicaid reimbursement for services rendered to eligible non-citizens prior to documentation of their immigration status. In addition, because immigrants tend to have lower incomes than the native-born population and are less likely to have employer-provided health insurance, they would have been disproportionately harmed by efforts to repeal the Medicaid expansion.

Read the entire piece on Health Affairs here: Immigration and Health Care Under the Trump Administration

Elisabeth Ryan