Supporters of the DACA program rally outside the U.S. Supreme Court. (Robin Bravender/ States Newsroom)
WASHINGTON — A panel on the U.S. House Oversight and Accountability Committee on Tuesday grilled a Biden administration official about the White House’s decision to allow undocumented people in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program to enroll in Medicaid or private insurance provided under the Affordable Care Act.
The chair of the subcommittee, Republican Rep. Lisa McClain of Michigan, argued that the policy decision to allow those under DACA to gain access to health care coverage is “rewarding illegal immigrants at the expense of (the) American citizen.”
“The proposal will incentivize further illegal immigration,” she said.
The hearing comes after the Biden administration in April announced rulemaking that would change the definition of “lawful presence” to include DACA recipients in Medicaid and Affordable Care Act coverage. Medicaid is a joint federal-state program that provides health coverage to low-income Americans and people with disabilities.
Democrats on the panel argued that the hearing was an attack on DACA recipients and an opportunity for Republicans to criticize the Biden administration’s immigration policy.
“Somehow, letting people who legally live in the United States buy health care is going to create a border crisis,” the top Democrat on the committee, Rep. Katie Porter of California, said. “It’d be funny to watch this bad argument fall apart if it weren’t such a waste of time.”
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The sole witness was Ellen Montz, the deputy administrator and director of the Center for Consumer Information and Insurance Oversight at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, which is part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Montz said the proposed rule would allow about 129,000 DACA recipients to access coverage for Health Insurance Marketplaces, the Basic Health Program and some Medicaid and Children’s Health Insurance Programs. If finalized, the rule would go into effect Nov. 1.
“The COVID–19 public health emergency further highlighted the need for this population to have access to high-quality, affordable health coverage,” she said.
Montz said about 200,000 DACA recipients were considered essential workers during the early stages of the pandemic.
“During the height of the pandemic, essential workers were disproportionately likely to contract COVID-19,” she said. “These factors emphasize how increasing access to affordable health insurance would improve the health and well-being of many DACA recipients currently without coverage.”
There are about 600,000 DACA recipients, and they are protected from deportation and deemed lawfully present in the U.S.
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Applications for the DACA program have been halted since 2021 following an injunction by a Texas judge, who will also determine whether the program is legal.
Even if applications could be accepted, immigration advocates have criticized that thousands of undocumented youth are not eligible for the program, some because they were not even born yet. To qualify, an undocumented youth needs to have continuingly resided in the U.S. since 2007.
Republicans on the panel argued that because of the Texas decision, DACA is considered unlawful, and therefore health care should not be extended to those recipients.
The program has not been deemed unlawful — the Texas judge found the Obama administration memorandum that created the program illegal, so the Biden administration went through the formal rulemaking process that now is before the Texas judge.
That decision is expected in the coming months and if DACA is deemed unlawful, the case is expected to go to the U.S. Supreme Court in 2024.
McClain took issue with HHS rewriting immigration policy. She said immigration reform should be up to Congress.
Montz said that the agency was not crafting immigration policy and has the authority to set definitions.
“Do we owe a legal duty to provide health care to DACA recipients over American citizens?” McClain asked Montz.
Montz said that DACA recipients are considered lawfully present in the country and therefore the Affordable Care Act would be extended to them.
“What this rule does is extend eligibility, it does not restrict eligibility for any other category,” Montz said.
Democratic Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York and Greg Casar of Texas said they found the hearing inappropriate, coming off the news of a joint investigation by the Houston Chronicle and the San Antonio Express-News that reported Republican Texas Gov. Greg Abbott directed border troopers to push migrant children into the Rio Grande and deny migrants water. Wire running along the water was also installed and it led to many migrants being injured.
“We are having this hearing on the heels of Gov. Abbott in Texas issuing an order to Texas troopers to push children and infants into the Rio Grande River. And now we’re having a hearing today about why we should push people brought here as children off health care coverage,” Ocasio-Cortez said.
Ocasio-Cortez said that DACA recipients pay about $9 billion in taxes each year.
“I do not know a group of people that oftentimes are more patriotic to this country than DACA recipients,” she said. “They give and they give and they give to a country that does not love them back.”
Republican Reps. Glenn Grothman of Wisconsin and Eric Burlison of Missouri said the new rule would be too costly.
“At the end of the day, health care costs a lot of money,” Burlison said. “And this nation is nearly broke.”
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