August 13th, 2009
05:04 PM ET
5 years ago

CNN Truth Squad: Will new health bill cover illegal immigrants?

The statement: Questions about whether those in the United States illegally would be covered by the health-care bill now before the House of Representatives have been a staple of the raucous public meetings some members of Congress have been hosting during their August break. At least two people raised the issue at a forum held by Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Maryland, on Wednesday, and Cardin's insistence that "Illegal aliens will not be in this bill - period - the end" was met with a round of jeers.

(Get the facts and the verdict after the jump)

The facts: The bill, HR 3200, specifically bars coverage for illegal immigrants. Section 246, which is included in the part of the bill that sets up a health insurance exchange, forbids payments "on behalf of individuals who are not lawfully present in the United States." But critics say there is no way to enforce that provision, and the Democratic majority in the House has turned back at least one Republican effort to stiffen citizenship checks.

Henrie Treadwell, a professor of community health and preventative medicine at Atlanta's Morehouse School of Medicine, calls the issue a "red herring." The existing health-care programs Medicare and Medicaid already require those enrolled to provide "a substantial number of documents" to show they're U.S. citizens or legal residents, she said.

On the other hand, doctors are obligated to treat people who show up in emergency rooms regardless of citizenship. Many of the estimated 10 million illegal immigrants in the United States are getting treatment at emergency rooms already, with the costs absorbed by hospitals and state and local governments, Treadwell said.

"It is certainly not just something that disappears," she said. "We are paying now for care that is not preventive, and we are paying millions."

Some Republicans argue that the measure has left a loophole for undocumented relatives of legal residents to be covered. But Treadwell disputes that, telling CNN that based on her reading of the bills, "There is no loophole currently." The language in Section 242 of the House bill limits benefits to family members who are citizens or legal residents, she said.

In addition, a widely circulated e-mail critical of the bill states that a non-discrimination clause in Section 152 would require illegal immigrants to be covered by a public health insurance plan. But the first line of that provision forbids discrimination "except as otherwise explicitly permitted by this act."

The verdict: False. The language of the House version of the bill as it is now written restricts coverage to U.S. citizens and legal residents - and as far as illegal immigrants are concerned, "It simply is not a truthful argument that they will be covered," Treadwell said.


Filed under: Health care • Health care fact check
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