September 10th, 2009
11:24 AM ET
14 years ago

CNN Truth Squad: Will health bill pay for illegal immigrants?

The statement:

Complaints that those in the United States illegally would get benefits under 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 August 12, and Cardin's insistence that "Illegal aliens will not be in this bill - period - the end" was met with a round of jeers.

The facts:

The bill, HR 3200, would set up a health insurance "exchange," in which consumers could compare policies and choose a plan. It would create a government-run health plan to compete with private insurers in that exchange, and extend subsidies for coverage to people who aren't already covered by employers or federal programs like Medicare and Medicaid. It specifically bars illegal immigrants from receiving those subsidies. Section 246, which is included in the part of the bill that sets up the exchange, forbids payments "on behalf of individuals who are not lawfully present in the United States."

But when Cardin said undocumented workers "will not be in this bill," he appears to have missed one point: It may require them to buy their own coverage.

That's the conclusion of the Congressional Research Service, which issued a report on the topic. According to the CRS, noncitizens who can be considered "resident aliens" under U.S. tax law would have to buy insurance - and unlike immigration laws, the tax code doesn't distinguish between legal and illegal immigrants.

"Thus, legal permanent residents, and noncitizens and unauthorized aliens who qualify as resident aliens ... would be required under H.R. 3200 to have health insurance," the new report states.

Critics say there is no way to enforce the ban on subsidies for undocumented workers, since the Democratic majority in the House turned back a Republican effort to explicitly stiffen citizenship checks. But Medicare and Medicaid already require those enrolled to provide "a substantial number of documents" to show they're U.S. citizens or legal residents, said Henrie Treadwell, a professor of community and preventive medicine at Atlanta's Morehouse University medical school.

Treadwell calls the issue a "red herring," since many of the estimated 10 million to 12 million illegal immigrants in the United States are getting treatment at emergency rooms already. Doctors are obligated to treat people who show up regardless of citizenship, and most of those costs are being 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. A new report finds the bill could require illegal immigrants to buy coverage, but it clearly restricts subsidies to U.S. citizens and legal

soundoff (221 Responses)
  1. EF Koehler

    So then, how long before Congress passes a bill to just make all the illegals US citizens? It was tried last summer. And the fact that the illegals get healthcare now is a disgrace. That is part of the reason why our healthcare system is so expensive!! It does not make government healthcare the right thing to do!! The right thing to do is get the illegals OUT OF THE SYSTEM.

    September 10, 2009 12:33 pm at 12:33 pm |
  2. Adaora-Houston

    The truth is, everytime an illegal immigrant goes to the emergency room we all pay. If an illegal immigrant got shot the doctor doesn't say, "show me your papers before I remove this bullet!" But I can assure you that your tax dollars and insurance premiums are current funding illegals and for some reason people think this is a new argument.

    September 10, 2009 12:34 pm at 12:34 pm |
  3. 312capri

    What happens after the government grants all the illegal immigrants amnesty? Then they would be here legally and eligible for health-care?

    September 10, 2009 12:35 pm at 12:35 pm |
  4. Bruce

    No it won't include illegals,,they will just make them citizens,what a bunch of idiots we have in Washington.

    September 10, 2009 12:36 pm at 12:36 pm |
  5. Mike Peters

    Fact check this: Joe Wilson claims he was an immigration attorney in his 9/10/2009 CNN video interview while making the argument that he cares about illegal immigrants...he was a real estate attorney. Not a trivial claim, given the circumstances.

    September 10, 2009 12:38 pm at 12:38 pm |
  6. Lowcountry Liberal

    You mean illegal residents can buy into the public plan? How dare they take personal responsibility in this manner?! Let it go, GOP: Nobody's buying your bull.

    September 10, 2009 12:39 pm at 12:39 pm |
  7. Fools

    The fools on the hill will figure out a way to get them covered eventually for sure, especially in CA.

    September 10, 2009 12:39 pm at 12:39 pm |
  8. John (New Mexico)

    The United States stole Mexico's land... Actually, Texans stole Mexico's land and now it's those same southern folks who are slapping the Mexican people in the face...

    Average Texan: "Get out, wetback!"

    September 10, 2009 12:41 pm at 12:41 pm |
  9. Reconsidering my 2010 Vote

    It's simple, any illegal immigrant will be seen and stabelized in the ER and then DEPORTED immediatly. If they are sick , well they need to be back home where their relatives can take care of them.

    September 10, 2009 12:42 pm at 12:42 pm |
  10. Michael K, Baltimore MD

    Perfect symmetry – a liar shouting 'Lie!'

    September 10, 2009 12:43 pm at 12:43 pm |
  11. Old Farmboy

    You're saying the statement is false, but you justification of the falsehood leaves doubt. You said "A new report finds the could..." Either it will or will not. My verdict is MISLEADING

    September 10, 2009 12:44 pm at 12:44 pm |
  12. gt

    american tax payers will pick up the tab dont kid your self.....

    September 10, 2009 12:45 pm at 12:45 pm |
  13. AJ

    Thank you for clarifying this. Enough with the sensationalism...on with the Facts.

    September 10, 2009 12:45 pm at 12:45 pm |
  14. Scott NYC

    The Congressional Research Office analysis says otherwise.
    "The bill contains no verification requirement or enforcement process for citizenship or legal residency, as exists for other federal benefit programs. The only verification required for the subsidies pertains to family income. Beyond that, as the CRS report notes, everything is left in the hands of the Health Choices Commissioner."
    Of course, the CRO is non-partisan and you are CNN!

    September 10, 2009 12:45 pm at 12:45 pm |
  15. Old Farmboy

    Corrected Edition

    You're saying the statement is false, but you justification of the falsehood leaves doubt. You said "A new report finds the bill could…" Either it will or will not. My verdict is MISLEADING

    September 10, 2009 12:45 pm at 12:45 pm |
  16. Robin

    And how is it going to be managed? Illegals get fake social security numbers all the time. They are able to get driver's licenses as well.

    They will "slip through the cracks". They will still get treated. Who is going to pay for that? Also, how are you going to insure millions of people without adding to the deficit? The numbers do not work. Even on paper.

    Plus there is rationing now. You don't think there will be more rationing with millions added? Then look at the statistics of USA vs. England for cancer survival. Now there are numbers that speak volumes.

    Let's fix what is broke in the Health Care Insurance industry ( ex. tort reform) and then move forward.

    September 10, 2009 12:45 pm at 12:45 pm |
  17. Michael M, Phoenix AZ

    Hospitals already have to take in ALL ER patients to begin with you dolts! What they do is get them stabilized and hopefully return them to their home countries....It cost St Joseph's Hospital over $400,000 to treat a young female illegal who was in a car accident (no car insurance either I believe) before they could get her stabilized and have a doctor and ambulance return her to Mexico....and of course, her family complained about it, and they didn't have to pay a peso.

    September 10, 2009 12:46 pm at 12:46 pm |
  18. normajean

    How many times does the president and the party have to say it for you Republicans to stop making trouble by lying?? Illegals will Not be covered by the health plan.

    September 10, 2009 12:46 pm at 12:46 pm |
  19. Independant Vet

    You know it will . Just as they voted . Got there stimulus checks. This is your change .

    September 10, 2009 12:46 pm at 12:46 pm |
  20. Trang

    How is this going to work? Do they ask people for their immigration status before treating and refused to treat if they are not citizens? I doubt health care workers would do that. They are there to treat and the bills come later.

    You might as well cover and mandate them – just like the rest of us.

    September 10, 2009 12:46 pm at 12:46 pm |
  21. Alec

    "health insurance exchange," will be run by the Government, paid by tax dollars. Everyone, legal or illegal, will be using tax dollars. Yes, if illegal alians participate through the excahnge and by private insurance, they will be using tax dollars.

    September 10, 2009 12:47 pm at 12:47 pm |
  22. Nick

    So they'll legitimize these illegals by waving a magic wand, viola` now they're legal, eligible for these federal subsidies!! They'll call it the immigration bill next year.

    September 10, 2009 12:47 pm at 12:47 pm |
  23. Kim from PA

    Thank you CNN for doing the job of real media and keeping at least this fact Strait!

    September 10, 2009 12:48 pm at 12:48 pm |
  24. Kate in San Diego

    This is even more irritating than the stupidity regarding "death panels." Here are the facts. First, illegal immigrants are not eligible for free heath care. Period. If they show up at an ER in dire straits, they will be treated – but get the same bill as anyone else. Maybe they pay it and maybe they don't – just like anyone else with no coverage. The bill does not allow for coverage of illegal immigrants and all attempts to insist that it does are nothing more than purposful misinterpretations of quite simple language. Those people sound like arrogant first year law students who think they know it all and are purposely minsinterpreting simple language. If an illegal immigrant has the resopurces to buy insurance – how is that hurting anyone else? And what is the alternative? To let someone die in the street if they cannot prove they are here legally? I have not heard any answers to that question from anyone, especially those screamers on the right.

    September 10, 2009 12:48 pm at 12:48 pm |
  25. Karen Owens

    Hello!!!!!!! Illegal immigrants are already being covered. They go to the Health Departments in every community for free health care. They are admitted to the hospitals all the time for free treatment. They deliver babies for free every day at our hospitals. But so do drug dealers that get shot. They get transported to emergency rooms every day for free extensive treatment for gun shot wounds, stab wounds, overdoses, etc. We are all paying for the uninsured already!!!!!

    September 10, 2009 12:49 pm at 12:49 pm |
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