To Strengthen Medicare, Pass Common Sense Immigration Reform

03/04/2014 05:29 pm ET | Updated May 04, 2014
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Would you support legislation that would add $202 billion to the Medicare trust fund in the next 20 years, without raising taxes or decreasing benefits by one penny? Eight months ago, the Senate passed a bipartisan, comprehensive immigration reform bill (S. 744) that would do just that. If this legislation becomes law, it will strengthen Medicare by providing millions of undocumented workers with legal status and a pathway to citizenship.

According to a new report from the Center for American Progress, these workers would contribute $253 billion in Medicare taxes over the next 20 years while only receiving $51 billion in benefits, adding a net $202 billion to the Medicare Part A Trust Fund.

Currently, only 3 million of the 8 million undocumented workers in this country are paying payroll taxes. If common sense immigration reform was implemented, 5 million men and women would be empowered to come out of the shadows and work legally, enabling them to contribute to -- and eventually receive -- Medicare and Social Security.

The additional revenue is particularly important for Medicare in the next few decades because of the retirement of the Baby Boomer generation. Anyone concerned about the impact of this population on the Medicare system should embrace immigration reform. Undocumented workers are, on average, 36-years-old and will be continuing to work and pay into Medicare for decades to come. Allowing them to work legally would strengthen our economy and bolster the Medicare system.

Shamefully, Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) is refusing to allow the Senate's common sense immigration reform bill to come to the floor of the House of Representatives for an up or down vote. CAP's report found that alternative proposals offered by House members, which would provide a pathway for undocumented workers to obtain legal status, but deny them citizenship, would not be as successful at strengthening Medicare. Refusing to provide these workers with a route to citizenship would decrease their contributions to the Medicare Part A Trust Fund by $9 billion over the next 20 years.

It is true that as previously undocumented workers become citizens and enroll in Medicare, they will also become eligible to receive Medicare benefits when they retire. However, the CAP report finds that even looking ahead 30 years, when 43 percent of current undocumented workers will be over the age of 65, the overall impact on the trust fund is a $155 billion net gain. Additionally, it is morally bankrupt to deny citizenship and healthcare to millions of people who have worked hard and contributed to our economy for decades, simply because of their undocumented status.

Strengthening Medicare is just one of the many benefits of common sense immigration reform. It is time for the House to take action.