It’s Time to Restore Fairness in Our Federal Health Programs | Commentary

Posted April 8, 2014 at 10:18am

The ability to take care of your family goes beyond income and immigration status. In New Mexico and at Planned Parenthood health centers nationwide, we see that a woman’s ability to access health care is critical to the stability of her family and community.

Yet, we see immigrant women in our health centers and our communities every day without access to timely preventive health care services because of unnecessary barriers to health care. Even if they are legal residents who pay taxes, women and their families must wait five years before they can participate in Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program. Five years is too long to wait for preventive health care services, especially when immigrant women have a higher incidence of cervical cancer, a largely preventable disease.

Furthermore, we see our nation’s health care system struggling to provide care to those who need it. When a patient without health insurance comes to a hospital or community health center for treatment, the costs they incur often go unpaid and are taken on by providers as uncompensated care.

We hope to change that. The newly introduced Health Equity & Access Under the Law (HEAL) for Immigrant Women and Families Act will remove barriers to health coverage. If passed by Congress, this initiative will guarantee that lawfully present immigrants who work hard and contribute to the economy will be treated fairly by the health care system they support when they pay taxes.

Without these barriers, lawfully present immigrants will have access to Medicaid and CHIP. They can see their own doctor rather than rushing to the emergency room, where it could cost them as much as $1,200 to treat common ailments such as the flu or upper respiratory infections.

The HEAL Act would also benefit DREAMers. In New Mexico alone, about 4,000 immigrants granted deferred action would be able to buy coverage on the health insurance exchanges with the help of tax credits if they qualify. They would also be eligible for Medicaid and CHIP coverage if they meet the income requirements of those programs.

We cannot continue to allow immigrants — our patients, our neighbors, our friends — and their families to continue to suffer needlessly. Lawfully present immigrants should not be denied the ability to make their own decisions about their health and overall well-being, and they should not be barred from health coverage by politicians simply because of their immigration status.

Our health care and safety net programs exist to promote equal opportunity in this country, and support the health and economic stability of our families and communities. It makes sense that everyone who contributes to these programs should be able to participate in them.

Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham, D-N.M., serves on the Agriculture, Budget, and Oversight and Government Reform committees. Cecile Richards is President of Planned Parenthood Federation of America.