At a critical point during President Obama’s health care address to Congress two weeks ago he said, “There are also those who claim that our reform effort will insure illegal immigrants. This too is false. The reforms I'm proposing would not apply to those who are here illegally.” Immediately there was an interjection: "You lie," shouted Rep. Joe Wilson (R-S.C.) igniting a debate over both protocol and the substance of the accusation.
Cooler heads prevailed later, but only to an extent. The next day Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said that he did not believe that the proposals for health care reform included illegal immigrants. Rep. Wilson, however, refused to back down other than to apologize to the White House for his outburst, but not for what he said.
The reason that Wilson felt that he was right was simple. When the proposed bill H.R. 3200 was in committee, Republican proposed amendments requiring verification of citizenship before applying for coverage were rejected by the Democratic majority.
So does that back up Rep. Wilson’s claim of dishonesty? It appears that all is not as simple as it might appear at first glance. The devil is in the details.
One major reason for the rejection is that, following a 2005 change to the law, Medicaid claimants are required to verify citizenship. According to The New York Times, a 2007 government review showed that this requirement increased the federal cost by $8.3 million. The benefit: Eight illegal immigrants were detected. More than $1 million for each person denied Medicaid.
A second reason was that many elderly people simply do not have the required original documentation to prove eligibility. This is unlikely to be such a concern for the new health care proposals, because younger people are far more likely to have documentation, but it was still a concern for Democrats.
Now maybe I should declare my interest in this. I am an alien… no, not that kind. I am an immigrant and, yes, I have permanent residency commonly referred to (inaccurately) as being a “green card” holder.
Under federal law I, as an immigrant, am unable to seek any kind of federal assistance for at least five years after arrival. Of course there are exceptions, including the granting of citizenship, but in general even legal immigrants are initially unable to rely on Federal programs.