The argument that everyone should support health care reform because it's for the "greater good" has given national leaders an excuse to brush off the concerns of the most disenfranchised and vulnerable communities that desperately need results. Latinos engaged in health care reform have not only been asked to sweep critical health care priorities under the rug, but also to swallow measures that would harm vulnerable immigrant families and their children. If this is what we can expect from our lawmakers and political leaders, we ought to take pause. We cannot forget for whom and for what we have been fighting since the beginning of this debate.
More often than not, appeals to the "greater good" come at the expense of the most vulnerable communities--in this case, those deeply impacted by uninsurance. Latinos represent more than one-third of the uninsured population in the U.S. Imagine for a moment that a doctor comes to your house to care for your sick family with only penicillin to offer, while knowing that several of your sickest children are allergic to that medicine. While that doctor may help many family members, the children who are allergic would either be harmed by the medicine or placed in grave danger by receiving no treatment at all.
In essence, this tells the story of Latinos in the Senate-passed version of health care reform. Proponents of this bill would have us believe that Latinos should support this approach without raising concerns and urging action on behalf of those we've failed to help.
Although the Senate-passed version of the health care reform bill offers new access to health insurance to many Latinos, it bars access to health care for legal immigrants, establishes a burdensome verification system that will erect barriers to enrollment for eligible children and their families, and leaves millions of others without access to affordable coverage.
Latino and immigrant advocates have been working to remove the bar on access to Medicaid for legal immigrants since 1996, and we won an important victory in early 2009 with the reauthorization of the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP), allowing 250,000 legal immigrant pregnant women and children access to coverage. But the proposed health care reform will not extend coverage to adult legal immigrants--some 600,000 would be left behind now, and untold numbers would go without insurance in the future. The Senate-passed health reform bill would also cement a burdensome immigrant verification system that will throw hurdles to enrollment in the way of eligible legal immigrant children and the U.S. citizen children of immigrants. This could affect four million U.S. citizen children of immigrants now and countless more in the future.
The unnecessary administrative barriers tacked on to the Senate legislation would further create layers of bureaucracy for all Americans, make the system more complex, and set up some of the most vulnerable families to lose the health coverage that they already have. If the final health insurance reform package does not remedy these issues, the scene that emerges after reform will be one that perpetuates restrictions to health care against legal immigrants, ensures that more U.S. citizen children in immigrant families go uninsured, leaves Latino families saddled with medical debt, and ultimately endangers American lives. However, many others will be helped by the bill, and that is what proponents would like us focus on; ignoring the broader reality while protecting the "greater good."
Latino and immigrant organizations have been weighing in with concerns over these issues since the beginning of the debate--and long before it too. We have identified sound policy solutions that protect the interests of all Americans, encourage responsibility of immigrants and citizens alike, and ensure that health care reform benefits the most vulnerable. Excepting Senator Menendez and Hispanic lawmakers in the House, congressional leaders and even the White House have mostly demonstrated inaction when it comes to tackling the health care concerns that plague Latino immigrant workers, parents, and their children. We have no speeches on the floor or in public, no votes to point to, and relatively few targeted measures in the most comprehensive health reform effort our nation has had in 15 years. The final health care reform package is still coming together and may yet prove to be worthy of support. But if so, it will not be because great numbers of people benefit on one side of scale while a smaller number of the most vulnerable populations remain neglected or are adversely impacted. That formula should be rejected immediately, especially with the Latino community on the cusp of becoming one of the country's most politically potent populations.
The National Council of La Raza (NCLR) believes in supporting efforts that address the concerns; the House bill did this, the Senate bill did not. We supported the House bill. It contained rigorous safeguards that would extend access to health care to all U.S. residents while preventing unauthorized workers from receiving taxpayer-funded subsidies. The spirit of the bill worked to ensure access to coverage for vulnerable, eligible families and children, and it was a health reform plan worthy of our support. We cannot say the same for the Senate bill, nor can we support reconciliation if the health care reform proposal remains unchanged. When the choice is made to move forward with the "greater good," we are deceived into thinking that real solutions have been reached; our most vulnerable populations suffer the consequences.