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Will Health Care Be Part of the DREAM?

By Christina Postolowski

Momentum is growing in Congress for comprehensive immigration reform, with millions of undocumented immigrants potentially eligible for a pathway to citizenship. So what does that really mean for young immigrants looking to get ahead?  In this blog series, Young Invincibles explores some of the finer details of immigration reform and what it specifically means for young immigrants. Let’s start with the impact of immigration reform on access to health care.

The 2010 health care law had many goals- foremost among them was to address the approximately 50 million Americans who go without health insurance.  The immigrant population is one of the groups most at financial or health risk due to a lack of coverage. For example, non-citizens are three times more likely than U.S.-born citizens to be uninsured. Yet, Congress decided to excluded undocumented immigrants from the exchanges and Medicaid provisions intended to make health insurance more accessible and affordable. As a result, undocumented immigrants are predicted to make up 25 percent of those still uninsured after health care reform goes into full effect in 2014. Of course, immigration reform could theoretically address this issue by helping undocumented immigrants achieve a legal status that could qualify for subsides.

Move ahead to last summer. President Obama took up the cause of young DREAMers through the deferred action for childhood arrivals initiative. Young adults who came to the U.S. before they were 16 and meet certain criteria – like attending school or having served in the military – can now apply for temporary relief from removal and work authorization. There are roughly 1.8 million young people who may meet the requirements for deferred action. The Administration announced last August that deferred action recipients, like unauthorized immigrants, will not be eligible for federal benefits available under the new health care law, including Medicaid, tax credits, and the exchanges. So deferred action offers little help to a young immigrant hoping to access new health insurance options.

Again, comprehensive immigration reform could fix that issue.

In the upcoming debate, Congress will negotiate whether individuals with probationary legal status will eligible for federal programs like health insurance subsidies. Immigrants could have to wait a long time in probationary legal status before getting a Green Card; if they are ineligible for federal benefits during this time, this means some prospective immigrants may have to wait years to get affordable health insurance. It remains unclear how Congress will decide this critical issue.

For young immigrants, the question remains: will health care be a part of the DREAM?