POLITICS
09/30/2015 07:03 pm ET

Congressman Wants To Heed Pope's Advice, Open Obamacare To The Undocumented

He's not expecting a vote, though.

WASHINGTON -- Many undocumented immigrants who pay taxes would be able to access Obamacare under a long-shot bill introduced Wednesday by Rep. Luis Gutiérrez (D-Ill.).

The Affordable Care Act currently limits access to its exchanges and subsidies to those "lawfully present." That means the approximately 11.3 million undocumented immigrants in the U.S. are not eligible for Obamacare, nor can they shop on the exchanges if their employer does not provide them with coverage. 

Gutiérrez's bill would open the exchanges and extend the subsidies to undocumented immigrants who provide proof of state residency and tax filings. It would also subject everyone to Obamacare's individual mandate, which doesn't currently apply to those not lawfully present.  

"The goal is to make integration and inclusion real for millions of families that are locked out under current law," Gutiérrez said on the House floor. "As it stands right now, undocumented immigrants are not subject to the individual mandate and cannot buy into health insurance exchanges even if they use their own money. My legislation will change that. It says that we stand for inclusion."

If passed, the immigration reform advocate's bill would take effect on Dec. 31, 2015, in time for 2016 enrollment, although his speech did not suggest optimism.

"I don't think the speaker, even as a lame duck, will allow a vote," Gutiérrez said, referring to the fact that Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) is stepping down at the end of October. 

Gutiérrez argued that his bill would strengthen the insurance pool and keep premiums low since undocumented immigrants tend to be young and healthy. According to the Migration Policy Institute, about 72 percent of undocumented immigrants are aged 19-44, compared to only 36 percent of the total U.S. population being aged 18-44.

Last year, California state Sen. Ricardo Lara (D) introduced similar legislation to open California's exchange to the state's estimated 1 million undocumented residents lacking insurance. He dropped the effort earlier this month, citing difficulty in rallying support. But the state's health program for the poor, Medi-Cal, was extended this year to cover those under age 19 regardless of their immigration status. 

Introducing his bill on Wednesday, Gutiérrez cited the pope's address to Congress last week. Pope Francis invoked the "Golden Rule," urging lawmakers crafting immigration policy to treat people as they would want to be treated.  

"Doing unto others as you would have them do unto you means moving forward with no restrictions on which brother and sister and neighbor we think of as 'eligible' or 'deserving' or is, in fact, considered my neighbor, my sister or my brother," Gutiérrez said.

CONVERSATIONS