Can undocumented immigrants get government subsidized health care?

There are also those who claim that our reform efforts would insure illegal immigrants. This, too, is false. The reforms — the reforms I’m proposing would not apply to those who are here illegally.

That was the point at which Rep. Joe Wilson shouted, “you lie,” and led to today’s national dialog about whether people who are here illegally will have access to health care. Notice, however, that the president didn’t say they would. He didn’t say they wouldn’t. He said “the reforms I’m proposing would not apply to those who are here illegally.”

That’s different than saying government won’t pay for access to health care for people who are in the United States illegally. It already is. Technically.

Take Minnesota, for example.

Technically, “Nonimmigrants” and “undocumented persons” are not eligible for General Assistance, welfare, Minnesota Supplemental Aid, SSI, Food Support, Emergency General Assistance, and MinnesotaCare. But, again technically, they have access to government-subsidized health care even though they don’t. How can both be true?

The 2003 Legislature eliminated GAMC coverage (General Assistance Medical Care) for nonimmigrants and undocumented persons who are under age 18, age 65 or older, blind, or disabled. It also eliminated GAMC coverage for all other nonimmigrants and undocumented persons.

But, according to the Minnesota House of Representatives Research Department, “Nonimmigrants and undocumented persons who meet MA eligibility criteria, such as children under age 21, parents of children under age 18, people who are age 65 or older, blind, or disabled, may be eligible for treatment of emergency medical conditions (including labor and delivery costs for pregnant women) under Emergency MA.” That’s federally funded.

In Minnesota and the U.S., SCHIP, the children’s health insurance program, provides undocumented and nonimmigrants prenatal and delivery care through the end of the month in which the child is born.

Technically, that’s government-subsidized health care.

So who’s right? That’s the problem. Technically both sides are. Especially when it’s boiled down to sound bites and talk show rhetoric. That’s why there needs to be more attention to the details of the various plans being discussed. The “immigrant issue” is a technicality being used to sway people who can’t be bothered with such things.

  • DaveG

    The President also ignores the very real possibility that this Congress and this President will renew their efforts at immigration reform that just might convert those that are currently here illegally to 12,000,000 that are here legally almost overnight.

    It might be a very good idea to factor that into cost calculations so as not to be surprised later.

  • Bob Collins

    Funny you should mention that, Dave. I was just reading this Atlantic blog post on the link between health care and immigration reform.

    The thing is, though, there are a lot of real details bigger than death panels and illegals worth discussion — tort reform seems to be the obvious one — that get drowned out by the search for “hot button” issues.

    It was fascinating watching the Democrats sit with arms folded while the Republicans cheered Obama when he mentioned tort reform.

  • Jeff

    I think the keyword from Obama’s statement is insurance – this plan wouldn’t provide it to illegal aliens – emergency room care is different. And I would argue that delivering a baby is an emergency, too. But the point here is whether someone here illegally is going to be receiving regular doctor checkups, exams, and scheduled medical procedures on the taxpayer’s dime – they aren’t.

  • Bob Collins

    But, again, that’s part of the technicality. They aren’t under THESE proposals. But they might under immigration reform. On this issue, one side is dealing with what MIGHT happen; the other is dealing with what WILL happen under one specific piece of legislation.

    That’s the problem with the framing of the debate on both sides at the moment — it lacks a big picture.

    Of course, the other problem here is the president’s plan, per se, isn’t in written form. He’s putting ideas but we don’t yet have a bundled package of specifics. We have stated proposals.

    That’s why it’s odd to hear him say it’s time to act. It’s actually time to see his plan in text. As long as we lack details, these sorts of sideshows will continue.

  • Joanna

    And everyone is furiously avoiding the underlying issue: that access to health care should be seen as a human right, not (just) a national entitlement.

    But if we want to stick to an economic metric, the the untreated conditions of undocumented workers end up costing us money when they turn up in the emergency room when treatable, preventable conditions become emergencies.

  • Bob Collins

    That may well be true, but that’s different from saying that the cost of providing health insurance to all people who are here illegally is less than the cost of providing emergency coverage to the far fewer who seek emergency treatment.

    On the rights issue, since we’re discussing legislation, it has a legal metric. In that vein, there’s no legal standing to cite a right to health care.

    That’s a moral argument.

  • Duke Powell

    Care for sick and injured illegal immigrants is a federal mandate under the Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act (EMTALA). If they present themselves to an Emergency Room, and by its extension a 911 call, they must be treated. Any state program is provided over and above this requirement and is a state option that Minnesota has taken on.

    During last night’s speech, the President said that “$1000 per year of our premium goes to pay for charity and uncompensated care for others.” A significant portion of this care is given to illegal immigrants.

    So when the President later said that, under his plan, illegals would not be covered, he was misleading at best. Someone pays. As it stands now the bill is paid through our insurance premiums. He said so himself.

    Any earlier commenter states that to assert that “someone here illegally is going to be receiving regular doctor checkups, exams, and scheduled medical procedures on the taxpayer’s dime – they aren’t.”

    Well, yes they do. Countless clinics across this country provide such services. They are funded, in large part by federal and state grants. That’s taxpayer money.

    So technically the President is correct. The Feds will not be taking money from your right pocket to pay for care of illegal immigrants.

    They will be taking it from the left.

  • Bobbydole

    I gotta agree with Jeff.. what are you gonna do, deny Emergency treatment until they supply proof that they’re a citizen? Leave all the mexicans dying in front of HCMC? It’s never gonna work that way and it’s dishonest and/or lying to call that “health insurance”.

  • GregS

    Obama told a Chicago lie.

    Even thought HR3200 does not specify coverage for illegal immigrants, the house explicitly voted down a provision mandating that applicants be screened through the SAVE Verification program.

    In other words, you don’t have to prove you are a citizen to get into THIS means tested program. A VERY NEW concept.

    A Chicago lie? That is when instead of taking a cash bribe, you have someone help you buy the land bordering your property for a high price and sell it to you for a song.

    Then you get to say, it’s not a bribe.

  • Lily

    The problem is that denying health coverage benefits to illegal immigrants means that many stay in hospitals longer than they need to, are treated on an emergency basis, and end up with more expensive treatment needs in the long run. We all pay more when they- or anyone-is denied access to the correct level of health care.

  • Thanks for this. I saw an article and thought it was nuts but you have done a terrific job at pointing that out.

  • GregS

    “The problem is that denying health coverage benefits to illegal immigrants means that many stay in hospitals longer than they need to, are treated on an emergency basis, and end up with more expensive treatment needs in the long run. We all pay more when they- or anyone-is denied access to the correct level of health care.”

    The only arguement for expanding coverage to illegal immigrants is a moral and ethical one. The problem is that our moral and ethical responsibility does not stop at our borders. We owe the same obligation to a child in Malawi that we owe the kid next door.

    The notion of “saving money” is a well-intentioned myth, but a myth none the less. The vast majority of clinic visits are for common non-complicated symptoms.

    While it is true that some untreated afflictions may indeed become more serious if left untreated, the economics of expanding treatment ON THAT BASIS cannot not justified.

    At one time, this was the argument used by Health Maintenance Organizations (HMO’s). and while it was a great idea, experience with the concept proved it was only a great idea, not a rational practice.

  • Bob T

    I disagree with your conclusion that technically “both sides are right”

    The president is right, – he did not lie. As you yourself say, that’s different than saying that we are not now paying for the health costs of illegal immigrants here now, or that some may be able to get around the law and get insured.

    When sometimes calls another person a liar, I think he has the burden of proof. I don’t see that he’s met it. If the intemperate congressman thinks there may be loopholes in the bills that should be closed, he’s welcome to that opinion, and should work to address that, but as a point of fact, the congressman is wrong the president did not lie.

    I agree that the issues are more complex than sound bites, but as was discussed a couple weeks ago on MPR with D J Tice – sometimes you need to call balls and strikes, the right and left positions do not have equal validity on all items at all times..

  • GregS


    Obama flat out lied within moments of calling other people liars.

    First of all we ARE now paying for the health costs of illegal immigrants here and with the public option, we WILL BE paying MUCH MORE for the health costs of illegal immigrants.

    Obama know this.


    He also knows that this is precisely what his oponents are complaining about yet HE MISCHARACTERIZES THEIR POSITION AND PRESENTS IT AS A LIE..

  • GregS

    Here is some baclground reading.

    About the SAVE Program


    In 1986, Congress passed the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 (IRCA), which required the creation and implementation of a verification system that confirms immigration statuses of individuals applying for certain federally-funded benefits. This system originally came under the jurisdictional purview of legacy Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS). To successfully accommodate this federal mandate, legacy INS created the Systematic Alien Verification for Entitlements (SAVE) Program in 1987 to develop the verification system. With the creation of the Department of Homeland Security in 2003, jurisdiction is now under the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), Verification Division.


    The SAVE Program will provide timely customer-focused immigration status information to authorized agencies in order to assist them in maintaining the integrity of their programs. SAVE will promote the use of automated systems to enhance efficiency, customer service and interagency collaboration, while protecting sensitive information.

  • Bob T


    You are missing the point.

    Look at Obama’s statement. The health reform bills in development now contain language that prohibits money going to illegal aliens.

    He did not lie.

    Your quoting other bills is irrelevant. That is not the issue. –

    OK you’ve got a problem with the way things are now, and you want to deny health care to illegal immigrants. That’s not what the president was talking about.

  • GregS


    You are missing the point.

    It is one thing to put in “language that prohibits money going to illegal aliens”. It is another to intenionally keep out language that mandates the citizenship of applicants be verified.

    Again, this is a first.

    It is a first for a reason.

    It is akin to proclaiming loudly. “I am against killing my soon-to-be-ex while leaving a sign above the back door that shouts in large font, “Killers, this door is intentionally left UNLOCKED”.

    If someone were to intentionally leave a door unlocked, resulting in a murder, they would be fully complicit and themselves be charged with murder in the first degree.

  • GregS


    “language that prohibits money going to illegal aliens”

    Gosh, don’t we have language that prohibits illegal aliens fron entering this country in the first place?

    As well as language that prohibits them from working?

    Why is it that Obama and the Democrats expect people who have already broken two sets of laws, to comply with a third?

    I guess they trust illegals so much they don’t want to check to see if they do something “illegal”.

  • Bobbydole

    GregS —

    I think you’re being very dishonest, and prehaps even lying with your choice of words but what ever.

    Now I don’t know much about SAVE, but it sounds like it would cost alot of time, and money to run these checks on millions of people. Now coupled with the fact that legal immigrants are usually scared of anything to do with the federal government, maybe it just doesn’t make sense to do this SAVE program, maybe it’s all a waste of money.

    2. I don’t think it makes a difference. Even if this were added back in republicans would find something else to complain about it. It comes down to this, they don’t want anything done. They want Obama to fail.

  • GregS’swife


    In regards to your concern about the SAVE program:

    I can’t find the original source. Sorry. looks like it was made for tweens. It kills me.

  • GregS

    “Now I don’t know much about SAVE, but it sounds like it would cost alot of time, and money to run these checks on millions of people. – Bobbydale”


    I don’t think YOU are being dishonest just because you disagree with me, but I do think that you don’t know much about how things work.

    For instance, the SAVE program IS BEING USED today to verify the citizenship of applicants for entitlement programs. I cannot see how one more program would such a burden.

    But then there is this burden thing. Well, maybe it’s just a political will thing. For instance, it’s not too much of a burden today to require every employer to check the name and social security number of every new hire in the country, into a Federal Child Support Database.

    Why the sudden concern about paperwork?

    Again, a first.

  • GregS

    Citizenship Verification Should be Used for Government-Run Health Plan

    July 16, 2009

    (Washington, DC) – Today U.S. Congressman Dean Heller (R-NV) offered an amendment to the America’s Affordable Health Choices Act (H.R. 3200) during the House Ways and Means Committee markup that would require the use of existing citizenship verification tools to determine eligibility for taxpayer-funded healthcare benefits. The Heller amendment was defeated.

    The Income and Eligibility Verification System (IEVS), and the Systematic Alien Verification for Entitlements (SAVE) would ensure that affordability credit applicants are U.S. citizens or legal residents eligible for the program. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, nearly 10 million of the uninsured in this country are not U.S. citizens. Section 246 of H.R. 3200 does not require the tools necessary to make sure illegal immigrants do not access taxpayer-funded healthcare benefits.

  • GregS’swife


    Doesn’t congress write the legislation and the executive branch provides the means to enforce the bill? In this case, namely using SAVE and possible IEVS to verify eligibility to participate in the insurance exchange proposed by H.R. 3200? I’m not sure if language of enforcement is normally included in this part of the legislative process, i.e. including SAVE and/or IEVS in Sec. 246. But maybe it is, I’m not sure again.