Immigration And Health Care Under The Trump Administration

This new post by Wendy E. Parmet appears on the Health Affairs Blog as part of a series stemming from the Sixth Annual Health Law Year in P/Review event held at Harvard Law School on Tuesday, December 12, 2017.

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. […]

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