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CHC Presses Pelosi to Include Illegal Immigrants in Health Bill

Updated: 7:03 p.m.

Leaders of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus planned to use a meeting Friday with Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) to reiterate that illegal immigrants should be covered under health care reform legislation.

But CHC Chairwoman Nydia Velázquez (D-N.Y.) later said the meeting, which included Members of the CHC Health Task Force, was focused solely on documented immigrants.

A CHC member, who requested not to be identified, said the group is urging Pelosi to ensure that everyone — including illegal immigrants — will be able to receive services as part of comprehensive reform.

“We’re pushing to include everyone in the health care bill. Everyone,— said one CHC member.

Asked if CHC leaders will ask Pelosi to specifically spell something out in the bill to address illegal immigrants, the Member said no. Rather, the Member said the CHC simply wants to make sure the bill — as drafted — doesn’t prohibit illegal immigrants from accessing care.

“Sometimes if you don’t say something, something happens,— said the Hispanic lawmaker.

Additionally, CHC leaders will reiterate their opposition to any provision that imposes a waiting period for immigrants to receive services, said the Member. Such restrictions have emerged in welfare reform and children’s health insurance debates; both had provisions to bar immigrants from receiving services until they had been permanent residents for five years.

“We had that battle over [the State Children’s Health Insurance Program]. We fixed it,— said the CHC member.

In a statement, Velázquez insisted that Members did not discuss coverage of undocumented immigrants.

“The focus of the meeting was to ensure that the health care bill allows legal, law abiding immigrants who have followed all of the rules, and who are committed to being in America, to pay their fair share for health care and be included in our health care system,— said Velázquez.

Proponents of comprehensive immigration reform — an issue possibly on tap later this year — are largely mum on the role of illegal immigrants in health care reform, generally pointing out that the bill does not explicitly allow services to illegal immigrants. But critics say the bill needs a specific exemption to bar immigrants from receiving health care through emergency rooms and community health centers.

Some critics say budget estimates for the health bill already factor in illegal immigrants receiving taxpayer-funded insurance.

Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa), ranking member on the Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration, Citizenship, Refugees, Border Security, and International Law, said it takes “third grade math— to see that the Congressional Budget Office is estimating 5.6 million illegal immigrants will receive health insurance in the next decade.

The CBO estimates that the U.S. population will include 14.1 million illegal immigrants in 2019, of which 8.5 million will not have health insurance. That leaves a difference of 5.6 million who will have insurance, says King, due to the health bill not requiring verification of citizenship for people receiving services.

At least one liberal group — the Center for American Progress Action Fund — is already debunking King’s claims. The group this week sent an e-mail to supporters saying the CBO never references how many undocumented immigrants would be covered in the health care bill because the analysis assumes they are not eligible.

King said he will offer amendments to the health care bill specifically aimed at blocking access for illegal immigrants, although he doesn’t expect his proposals to go anywhere.

“The default is that illegals will be funded. I know that’s what they want. The people that will vote for this bill are dominated by the opinion that they want to provide free health insurance for illegals. That’s their position. They don’t think they should say no to anybody on this planet,— said the Iowa Republican.