THE BLOG
02/02/2012 01:39 pm ET Updated Apr 03, 2012

Toward a More Inclusive, Healthy Union

Two and a half years ago Congressman Joe Wilson called out across the well of Congress, "YOU LIE, Mr. President." If the never-ending news cycles leave you struggling to recall exactly what President Obama was accused of lying about, it was the inclusion of undocumented immigrants in the yet-to-be-passed healthcare reform bill.

Thanks to this comment and the resulting uproar when healthcare reform begins in 2014 undocumented immigrants will be barred from purchasing healthcare on the regulated insurance exchanges -- even with their own money. They won't qualify for Medicaid, contrary to a popular myth. Moreover, many of their legal immigrant spouses, parents, cousins, etc. will also be ineligible for Medicaid. The unbelievably complex rules for immigrant healthcare could easily result in one family having their various members regulated by five separate sets of eligibility rules.

Eventually our nation will need to decide if we really want the people who clean our office buildings, care for our children, serve our food, and whose children attend school with our children to have significantly worse healthcare. Meanwhile, down in Florida, Governor Romney and Speaker Gingrich argue over the laughable notion of "self-deportation" and spar over who the anti-immigrant is.

But Illinois can move ahead, and make sure that healthcare reform is both rational and humane. While we cannot change the enormously complicated federal eligibility guidelines, we can reduce the confusion for families here in Illinois and promote healthcare access to the fullest extent possible.

We can ensure that immigrant families understand what their new healthcare options will be in 2014 by developing an infrastructure of community organizations to assist immigrants to understand their complicated eligibility and guide them towards other options if they don't qualify for or can't purchase health insurance. We must make sure we have a strong, stable safety net that includes not just preventative care but the acute care that left untreated results in high medical bills and throws many low-income individuals into medical debt and hurts our overall economy.

For all those who are still learning English, we can make sure the system supports provides language access so that patients can navigate their healthcare options. Finally, here in Illinois we've made a strong stand that all children should have access to healthcare. Let's keep it that way.

Even in a state like Illinois, this isn't going to be easy. To learn how we do these things -- how we build strong, healthy communities in Illinois and lead the way to a stronger, healthier country free of hate and bigotry, come to ICIRR's 2nd Annual Immigrant Integration Summit on February 4th at Malcolm X College and the Keeping Our Communities Healthy Workshop at 9:45.