Why should any plan that emanates form the current national debate on health care reform include legal immigrants? The answer should be obvious: legal immigrants are lawful -- and in many cases permanent -- residents of the United States. They work -- with government authorization -- and pay taxes into the system just as U.S. citizens do and, thus should be able to access federal benefits that guarantee the protection of basic human rights.
The issue revolves around whether legal immigrants must continue to wait five years before they become eligible for Medicaid, which is the current law (otherwise known as “the five-year ban”), and whether the five-year ban should be extended to legal immigrants of higher incomes who otherwise would become eligible for subsidies to buy health insurance.
Opponents say legal immigrants are not U.S. citizens and that any plan should only include U.S. citizens. They also suggest that the cost of including legal immigrants would be prohibitive. The truth is that the numbers do not support such claims.
According to the non-partisan Kaiser Foundation, non-citizens have less access to health care and receive less primary health care than U.S. citizens, but they are also less likely to use the emergency room. A July 2009 article in the American Journal of Public Health supports this claim.
According to the Immigration Policy Center, the average immigrant uses less than half the dollar amount of health care services than the average native-born U.S. citizen. This is because they are usually younger, healthier and less likely to use medical services, and due to the fact that U.S. citizens make up 78% of the non-elderly uninsured.
Opponents of the inclusion of legal permanent residents should check their math. When health costs are distributed across a broader pool of people, who in addition tend to use those services less, the overall costs for everyone goes down.
Earlier this year, legal immigrant pregnant women and children became eligible for the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP). All pregnant women and children, regardless of their immigration status, should receive coverage to ensure that newborns are healthy and children receive regular check ups and vaccinations.
Legal immigrants pay into the system, so they should be able to access the benefits, just like everyone else.
The United States recognized that health care is a universal human right when it signed on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights on December 10, 1948 (see Article 25). We have, however, a less than convincing record on upholding this right for our population. Forty-seven million uninsured people are a powerful witness against us.