Thursday, October 1, 2020

GUEST BLOGGER SERIES: Janet Murguía and Ralph Neas "Don’t Deny Healthcare to Children of Parents in U.S. Illegally"

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  Latinovations would like to thank Ms. Murguía and Mr. Neas for their contribution to La Plaza.

America cannot afford to allow anti-immigrant sentiment to shape healthcare reform policy. The health reform debate must be about what is best for all Americans, not about immigration. Our nation’s leaders should not allow preventable illnesses, instability, and insecurity to plague any American child.

Healthcare reform must cover all children, including those citizen children living with undocumented parents. It is one thing to oppose providing subsidized health benefits to “those who are here illegally”; it is quite another to bar children from health coverage because of citizenship status.

Draconian restrictions on health insurance have included proposals to delay or deny access to healthcare for citizen children because of their parents’ status. Other provisions bar undocumented immigrants from getting health insurance through the healthcare exchange, even though full access to the exchange would cost taxpayers nothing. These measures would impose immense administrative burdens on the system and are simply bad health policy. Immigrant access to the insurance exchange would lower costs, and improve healthcare for everyone.

On what moral basis should we prevent any child living in America access to life-saving treatment, preventive healthcare, vaccinations, flu shots, and diabetes tests? These are measures that policy experts all agree improve public health and save money. Early and regular access to healthcare can save taxpayer dollars by preventing expensive emergency room visits and reducing the rates of chronic disease. Coverage for all children will likely result in earlier detection of life-threatening conditions, such as cancer. Is this healthcare outcome only good for the children of long-time U.S. citizens?

Worse yet, Congress is insisting that all immigrant children must prove their legal status before they can visit a doctor. Complex layers of citizenship verification have been proven to be costly and harmful to eligible U.S. citizen children. Administrative burdens and red tape are already strangling healthcare providers. Any child in need of immunizations or treatment for infectious diseases requires those services in a timely manner. Denying or delaying them treatment hurts everyone.

A study conducted by the Commonwealth Fund found one such “citizenship verification system” in Medicaid delayed and denied health coverage to tens of thousands of children. In Virginia, while children waited for care, nearly 40 percent had their health needs go unmet. The state also experienced rising emergency room visits by Medicaid-qualified citizen children waiting for coverage to be approved.

A study by the Government Accountability Office found that the system caught only eight ineligible people out of a caseload of 3.5 million. This “saved” $11,048 in benefits denied to ineligible, not necessarily undocumented, immigrants at a cost of $8.3 million in federal taxpayer dollars! We cannot afford to add unnecessary and wasteful measures that disserve children and the public interest.

Oddly, Congress is willing to close the door on covering all children despite the wishes of American voters. According to a poll by First Focus, the extension of comprehensive health insurance to all children is supported by 87 percent of registered voters. And just talk to your neighbor. People do not want more government roadblocks to affordable health coverage.

Common sense needs to prevail. Anything that prevents children or legal residents from accessing the care they need while serious medical conditions such as cancer, diabetes, and asthma worsen is not fiscally responsible.

Finally, some 1.5 million undocumented children are growing up in the United States. These children are becoming a part of the fabric of our great nation. Many will live out the rest of their lives here. Reasonable people can disagree about whether adults who knowingly entered the U.S. without authorization should have access to federally subsidized healthcare. But surely this cannot apply to children whose parents made the decision to come here, and who themselves had no choice in the matter.

Children are our nation’s most precious resource; it makes both moral and fiscal sense to ensure that every child has access to affordable healthcare. Few, if any, Americans would walk by a child in need just because his or her citizenship status was uncertain. Denying children the care they need is not what America stands for. Let’s hope our leaders choose to listen to their better angels.

 The Hill

Janet Murguía is president and CEO of the National Council of La Raza. Ralph Neas is CEO of the National Coalition on Health Care. This article was originally published on The Hill’s website. We thank Ms. Murguía and Mr. Neas for allowing us to publish their work.