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Kathy Ko Chin Headshot

Time to Put Policy Over Politics

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In August 2012, President Obama extended the policy of deferred action (known as DACA) and provided temporary relief from deportation and made available work permits for certain undocumented children and young adults. For many, this has been nothing short of life-changing.

DACA children and young adults, also known as DREAMers, epitomize the hopes and aspirations of our young generation. They are driven and many, of those who are eligible to do so, work. Most have strong English skills because they have spent their lives in the U.S. and, because gaining a quality education is a prerequisite for the program, they are whip smart and hungry to learn. More than 40 percent have graduated high school and more than 20 percent are enrolled in higher education. They are our future doctors, teachers and job creators.

What they do not have, however, is the same commitment we make to the rest of the children in this nation - access to routine quality health care. Since 1997, federal and state policy makers have teamed up and dramatically improved insurance rates amongst children through the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP), Medicaid, and more affordable private coverage options through the Affordable Care Act. Insurance coverage among children is now just about 93 percent -- not perfect, but leaps from where we started.

For decades, we as a nation have recognized the crucial need for health care in the early years. That is why we offer no-cost immunizations, have robust protections for kids insured by CHIP and Medicaid, and prioritize children's health. Uninsured kids are less likely to have a usual source of care and, like their adult counterparts, are more likely to have unmet medical needs. An adult may be able to put off a trip to the doctor, but a child in grade school or a teen just starting college would do so with potentially more harsh consequences.

In the wake of Congress' failure to advance meaningful immigration reform, it has become crystal clear that Congress will not act in any way that matters. One thing that can be fixed now with a swipe of the pen is the regulation impacting DREAMers, preventing them from accessing health care. Most of these children and young adults have always called America home and yet their futures are stymied by our complex laws.

During the last two years, more than half of the 1.2 million youth who qualify for DACA have applied. They come largely from Mexico, El Salvador, Guatemala, Korea and Honduras. An estimated 33,000 children and young adults from Korea, 15,000 from the Philippines and 12,000 from China are eligible for relief.

While the administration took a pivotal step in extending temporary relief from deportation, it did so with limits that disadvantage these aspiring citizens. DACA kids and young adults are excluded from the same health care options other similar classes of immigrants qualify for. They are locked out of the Affordable Care Act, even if they purchase coverage at full price, and barred from federal CHIP and Medicaid.

As a result, DACA kids must navigate a patchwork of coverage options: state-funded programs, if they are lucky enough to live in states that have them; emergency care; coverage on the open market that is simply cost-prohibitive for most; or already cash strapped safety-net clinics.

And because DACA recipients are young and tend to be healthier, excluding them from the Marketplace knocks out a key population that could help spread actuarial risk and lower costs for everyone, a key concern heading into the second enrollment period this November.

As the president contemplates executive action in the wake of Congress' inaction, he would do right to bring DACA kids in line with other immigrants granted similar reprieve and allow them access to the same health programs. It's the right policy now and an investment in everyone's future.