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Esther J. Cepeda

Esther J. Cepeda

Posted: September 9, 2009 11:31 PM

Who's a Liar? In Search of the Million Dollar Illegal Immigrant to End All Health Care Reform


The health care debate has been hijacked by angry people who have health insurance, don't want their applecart upset, and thusly have resorted to spreading out-and-out lies about the current attempt at reform.

Some so angry, they'll catcall the president during a nationally-televised address to congress. Thanks for being so classy Rep. Joe Wilson, Republican of South Carolina, as you yelled "You lie!" when Obama said no illegal immigrants would receive benefits under his plan.

Let's get something straight about all of the healthcare proposals currently being floated in Congress: IF the federal government DID subsidize health care, illegal immigrants would be excluded from benefits.

Too vague for you? OK, let's try it a different way: there is a section in all of the bills, such as I understand them, specifically outlining that there will be no federal payments for undocumented aliens.

The Library of Congress' research arm released a report on August 25 verifying that in all the proposed bills, "unauthorized aliens would be barred" from receiving any federally subsidized money for health care.

Oh that's not stopping the same sorts of people who dreamt up "death panels" for insisting otherwise as they try to fire-bomb health-care reform, according to Julia Preston in Sunday's New York Times piece "Health Care Debate Revives Immigration Battle."

According to the article, people like Senator Charles E. Grassley will tell you that though this restriction is clearly articulated, the House bill is "so poorly cobbled together" that it effectively moots the restriction.

Texas Representative Lamar Smith said that Democrats had "intentionally left gaping loopholes" that would allow - heck, even encourage!!! is the subtext - illegal immigrants to get federally subsidized health care.

How to keep illegal aliens to foxtrot through loopholes, however, is a sticky matter. In 2005, a law was passed requiring all applicants to Medicaid to verify their citizenship status, and some have floated the idea of using those same guidelines for any new program. But, ouch, this country doesn't have a feasible and comprehensive system for keeping track of who's who here - probably a relic from olden days when the citizens of this country weren't quite so eager to ensure that the non-citizens among us were run out of the country on a rail.

Sure, we could require every person currently living in the United States to produce proof of citizenship for nearly anything but guess who gets left out in the cold?

Old people, who can't produce original official birth documents.

The flaky, who have a tendency to lose stuff.

Victims of fire or other natural disasters, who lose all of their possessions.

There are surely about a million scenarios, but for a moment forget any future systems; the current one is conducive to a lot of head-scratching: the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform audited and analyzed the verification costs and results of six states and found that the more stringent rules imposed by the 2005 legislation requiring proof of citizenship increased federal costs by $8.3 million and only detected eight illegal immigrants on the state rolls.

Yep, that's about a cool million spent per illegal immigrant.

Wouldn't it be more effective to drop the verification requirements and enact some sort of cruel, Dickensian punishment for defrauding the government of Federally funded benefits (that's almost close to being true already, which might be the number one reason there were only eight lawbreakers found in that particular study)?

Wouldn't that $8 million be better spent - if any far-reaching health care reform bills were passed - on outreach into communities with high illegal immigrant populations to let them know that the new laws require them to buy health insurance or face tax penalties?

Tax penalties above and beyond the current penalties of paying into social security and the Internal Revenue Service without a penny of benefit in return, that is?

What - you didn't know that? Yes, illegal immigrants pay taxes: FICA and Medicare. Let's not forget Social Security - to the tune of $12 billion in 2007. Plus sales taxes, and gasoline taxes. And also property taxes, which fund almost all of the costs of local schooling in Illinois and the rest of the country. Hey, I'm not saying any of this is good or bad, but it is a fact too-often overlooked.

But what the heck, let's just go ahead and bar anyone - legal or illegal, black, white, brown, whatever - who can't come up with an official document from access to health care, whether it be preventative or emergency.

After all it's not like we all breathe the same air. Or ride the same buses, or attend the same schools - elementary, high school, or college - together. It's not like we have an H1N1 flu outbreak looming over us...those pesky viruses know how to target only those who'll have the means to overcome illness.

Nope, all the legal, currently-insured people should just continue to do their best to dive-bomb healthcare for the legal or illegal neediest among us so they can live healthily and happily ever after.

Thanks a lot, Joe, for adding to the chorus of "haves" who will say just about anything to keep healthcare from the "have-nots."


Esther J. Cepeda is an opinion journalist and expert on the issues of U.S. Hispanics/Latinos. She writes about that and much, much more on www.600words.com

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