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. KG, MN

    It's absurd to think the US would cover illegal immigrants. But, if we did, Republicans should be happy. We could include the question "are you in the US legally?" and if the enrollee checks "no" just have ICE pick detain them right after their medical check up and send them on to a deportation center. Win-win!

    September 10, 2009 12:49 pm at 12:49 pm |
  2. Greg, San Francisco, CA

    The right wing trolls never let truth stand in the way of their opinion.

    September 10, 2009 12:51 pm at 12:51 pm |
  3. Danny

    The Joe Wilson's of the country and their supporters don't care about the truth. The GOP strategy for years has been to scream some unsubstantiated and sometime blatently false statement, over and over, until enough people believe it is a fact. I hope the American people are beginning to catch on to this and act accordingly come election time.

    September 10, 2009 12:51 pm at 12:51 pm |
  4. Ron

    Read the bill. There is nothing in there that excludes non-citizens from getting healthcare.

    September 10, 2009 12:54 pm at 12:54 pm |
  5. bill

    When the congress grants amnesty to the illegals will they then become eligible.

    September 10, 2009 12:54 pm at 12:54 pm |
  6. Johnny B

    It will be good for illegals to purchase insurance, and not get subsidies. Will they? That is yet to be seen, how will they be fined for not having insurance if they do not pay taxes? Those that want to be Americans and want to be part of the system will buy insurance and it may stop the overflow of illegals going to the E.R. every time they are sick and raising the costs of health care.

    If the government can't/won't stop the illegals from crossing the borders, the very least the government can do is mandate they be a part of the system and require them to pay taxes, have health insurance. Then there will be less of a drain on the rest of Americans, who are paying for the illegals health care in higher premiums.

    September 10, 2009 12:56 pm at 12:56 pm |
  7. mike Goldscheitter

    This is only the second report I've seen today on the actual language in the bill. If there were more stories showing Wilson was wrong factually, not just personally, it might stop people from defending him.

    Then again, maybe not.

    September 10, 2009 12:59 pm at 12:59 pm |
  8. Ken Tompkins

    Without a stringent means for imposing ID checks on patients – no language barring subsidies for the care of illegal aliens can realistically be considered enforceable. Just writing it or saying it doesn't make it so. Obviously, illegals will just continue to get free care by not showing their id's. Whether Medicaid, Medicare, charity care, or some other government plan pays for it – we're all paying for it. Not that we should.... I say turn them away or levy sanctions against countries of origin that are deducted from our international subsidy programs.

    September 10, 2009 12:59 pm at 12:59 pm |
  9. Jean

    If someone is here illegally, they should be deported. All the other problems spring from the failure to enforce this LAW. Fix this, and the rest fixes itself.

    September 10, 2009 01:00 pm at 1:00 pm |
  10. Truthbetold

    The verdict is wrong as usual. You fail to mention, the children born here by illegal immigrants, who will get it, you fail to mention when they are granted amnesty, they will get it, you fail to mention when they go to the emergency rooms and the average Joe and Jane will have to pay for it all. CNN, grow some, and stop the ridicules one sided reporting.

    September 10, 2009 01:01 pm at 1:01 pm |
  11. Winchel Vincent

    If I read this correctly, there is a gray area. The literal text indicates false. But, the obligation of doctors to treat anyone in an emergency room indicates true. The latter is the loophole. Emergency room care (for anyone,legal or illegal) will continue to occur and it will be paid either through government taxes or increase in private health care costs.

    September 10, 2009 01:02 pm at 1:02 pm |
  12. Tim

    Obama doesn't seem to hear or care about what the american people are saying. "Leave our health care alone!" is being said all over the country and he still doesn't hear it, so it is nice that a member of congress can speak for the nation and telling Obama, "You Lie" I'm sure Obama heard that.

    September 10, 2009 01:02 pm at 1:02 pm |
  13. Casey | Ruth, CA

    It will require them to buy their own insurance... JUST LIKE other countries require US citizens to do, if living in THEIR countries.

    What few seem to realize is that the rest of the world is far more strict about non-citizens, in terms of supporting themselves, requiring good health, buying insurance or buying into the country's health plan.... even as far as some (New Zealand, for example) requiring English as a language.

    Americans are hopelessly ignorant about the rest of the world.

    September 10, 2009 01:02 pm at 1:02 pm |
  14. Anonymous

    So we should not do anything because there might be a loophole in the bill that would allow illegals to get health care coverage? Are we forgetting that these are the same people who are already getting subsidies under the current system in the form of going to the emergency rooms of public hospitals and getting care they can't pay for? Are we forgetting that we are already footing this bill? Now, I am not a proponent of illegals getting any benefits whatsoever, but if such a loophole does exist in the new bill, at least the illegals would be paying something for such coverage instead of getting treatment for free on the backs of Americans.

    September 10, 2009 01:03 pm at 1:03 pm |
  15. Marcelo

    I'm sure Joe Wilson thought he was was right when he called President Obama a liar, but obviously he was drinking too much of his party's Kool-aid and didn't read the bill for himself before making an idiot of himself on national television.

    I suspect many republicans haven't read the health bills they're screaming about... Maybe Joe's example will inspire other republicans to do their homework before spreading party talking points/"scare tactics".

    September 10, 2009 01:05 pm at 1:05 pm |
  16. Dave

    Without any teeth to require documentation, the bill will not exclude illegal immigrants. Why else is it necessary to state that we're paying for them anyway with emergency room care costs.

    Maybe the bill should be written in a language that could be clearly understood by the public without depending on lawyers who provide conflicting interpretations.

    September 10, 2009 01:05 pm at 1:05 pm |
  17. James Doerrer

    The way this FACT is written I cannot tell which is false, The ones with the complaint or the senator who said "NO WAY" Please clear this up as the right will say one thing and the left will say some thing different.

    September 10, 2009 01:05 pm at 1:05 pm |
  18. arun

    The truth has never stopped Republicans. Why would it now ?

    September 10, 2009 01:07 pm at 1:07 pm |
  19. 30m-PA-Dem

    There are loopholes in the bill that can allow illegals to get health insurance.

    September 10, 2009 01:08 pm at 1:08 pm |
  20. Sam Barber

    But the bigger issue is...this isn't by far the only instance of outright lies spread about the health care bill. Palin, Limbaugh et al, even Republican members of Congress lied and are still lying about parts of the bill in order to scare those who don't check out the facts on their own. Like my father said recently: "What part of OPTION don't they understand?"

    September 10, 2009 01:08 pm at 1:08 pm |
  21. Steve

    Subsidies are restricted to U.S. citizens and legal residents. But no proof of citizenship is necessay to qualify for these subsidies. Which means illegals will apply, and illegals will receive health care for free or reduced prices. CNN and Obama are very duplicitous on this issue, because this loophole means that illegal aliens will inadvertently be covered, although the bill says they will not. Is CNN's factcheck truthful? FALSE

    September 10, 2009 01:08 pm at 1:08 pm |
  22. Audrey

    What CNN has a truth squad. You guys have been so misinformed for the last year that we would have a hard time believing your "truth squad" (is that another word for Republican talking points!)

    September 10, 2009 01:09 pm at 1:09 pm |
  23. Jennifer

    How about doing fact checks on the rest of the speech? Like the financial numbers – Obama has no more idea of how to pay for this monstrosity than he did before.

    Cut waste & fraud & abuse in government? Every time we hear those words, we get more waste & fraud & abuse. I have seen nothing to indicate he can magically transform DC into a model of fiscal responsibility and restraint. Quite frankly, he shows exactly the opposite.

    September 10, 2009 01:09 pm at 1:09 pm |
  24. Joe six pack

    I wonder if the GOP will ever stop be the party of lies. Racism, hate, bigotry, fearmongering, obstruction, no ideas. How low a political party and the conservative movement can go?

    September 10, 2009 01:09 pm at 1:09 pm |
  25. Mark Cross Junction VA

    It will since no proof of citizenship is required. Do you think some mexican is going to say "Hey i'm illegal" Pray for three years and 5 months to arrive quickly. But I'm sure by that time Mexicans will outnumber the whites 3 to 1.

    September 10, 2009 01:09 pm at 1:09 pm |
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