Health Reform: 5 Year Waiting Period for Legal Immigrants Eliminated

The Senate might have adopted stringent verification regimes to bar undocumented immigrants from accessing health care even with their own money, but legal immigrants have won a concession that would allow them to access tax affordability credits without a waiting period.

For several weeks, Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ)—the only Latino lawmaker left in the Senate after the retirement of Mel Martinez—pushed for an amendment that would eliminate the five-year waiting period that is imposed on legal immigrants before they are allowed to be eligible for Medicaid. If adopted into the final Senate bill, it would have made an estimated 600,000 more people eligible for Medicaid benefits.

For a while, it looked like Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid would throw the pro-immigrant camp a bone, but the Menendez amendment died unless it is revived in conference. The Affordable Health Care for America Act (HR 3962) passed by the House also does not include a removal of the 5-year bar for Medicare and Medicaid but it waives the 5-year waiting period before legal immigrants can access the federal benefit of tax affordability credits. The Senate bill does the same. A final vote on the Senate bill is scheduled for the 8:00 AM EST on Christmas Eve.

Undocumented immigrants might become a more contentious issue going into conference. Currently, the House bill allows undocumented immigrants to buy health insurance on a public exchange while the Senate bill bars them and drops the public option.

The Congressional Hispanic Caucus has threatened to vote against a health care bill that excludes undocumented immigrants from buying health insurance on the exchange with their own money. They may be swayed with the promise of CIR in 2010 even though Rahm Emmanuel stands in the way.

Without the public option though, the health insurance reform bill is simply a mandate on all American citizens and legal residents to buy barely reformed private health insurance. The fact that undocumented immigrants are excluded from this mandate might turn out to be a good thing.

(Photo Credit: republicanconferen ce’s photostream Flickr photostream //CC Attribute)

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