Healthcare for illegal immigrants in the US?

Will illegal immigrants in the US be able to get healthcare ?

Illegal immigrants in the U.S. won’t gain insurance benefits under the proposed health-care overhaul that President Barack Obama described yesterday to Congress.

That may not stop some uninsured and undocumented U.S. residents from getting government help paying for their health care, Republican critics said. Current proposals lack enforcement provisions to ensure that ineligible applicants are kept from programs, causing a gap between law and practice, according to a group seeking curbs on immigration.

Benefits for immigrants who enter the U.S. illegally have been among the most contentious issues in Congress during debates on immigration policy. The dispute spilled into health care during Obama’s address when U.S. Representative Joe Wilson, a South Carolina Republican, shouted “You lie!” after the president said his proposed changes “would not apply to those who are here illegally.”

“President Obama is correct that the legislation that has been proposed in Congress, the legislation that he’s considering, would not provide federal subsidies for the undocumented,” said Leighton Ku, a professor of health policy at George Washington University in Washington, in a telephone interview. “Can some people cheat? Some people can cheat at virtually anything.”

How many ineligible residents may get U.S. help paying for health care is in contention. The Center for Immigration Studies, the Washington-based policy group that advocates for greater immigration controls, estimates that as many as 6.6 million uninsured illegal immigrants could get federal subsidies for health insurance under legislation in the House, at a cost of as much as $30.5 billion a year.

‘Unenforced’ Ban

“As it now stands, the bill has a ban on illegal immigrants, but Congress has chosen to leave that ban unenforced,” Steven Camarota, director of research for the Washington-based group, wrote in the report issued this month.

Ku says the number that may cheat the system is likely to be much lower.

“I doubt it would be anywhere in that range,” he said. Providing coverage to illegal immigrants “is not the intent of the legislation.”

While methods of checking eligibility may not have been specified in the proposal, “there are relatively straightforward ways to monitor it that the federal government” has used before, such as requiring and confirming Social Security numbers, Ku said.

There are 11.9 million unauthorized immigrants currently in the U.S., according to the Pew Hispanic Center, a nonprofit, nonpartisan research center in Washington. Fifty-nine percent of adults illegally in the U.S. had no health insurance in 2007, double the proportion of legal immigrants, and four times that of U.S.-born adults, the organization said in an April report.

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