by Robert Kraig, Executive Director
I am live blogging from the largest annual convening of state health care reform advocates: the Families USA Health Action Conference 2016. I am here for four days with our Organizing Director Kevin Kane to compare notes with other health advocates and gather research and strategies we can use to turnaround the health care debate in Wisconsin.
The first Plenary of the conference Thursday morning opened very appropriately with a speech about a great injustice in the Affordable Care Act (ACA), the deliberate exclusion of undocumented immigrants. When the law passed in 2010, Congress placed in the ACA a mean spirited provision that excluded people from the federal health insurance marketplace who are “not lawfully present,” even if they use their own money. This provision effectively excludes 11 million members of our communities from full access to health care
Congressman Luis Gutierrez brought health care reform advocates from across the country to their feet with a stirring speech advocating for the bill he introduced last year, The Exchange Inclusion for a Healthy America Act. The bill extends the individual mandate to undocumented people, and in turn guarantees them access to the federal health insurance marketplace and subsidies to afford insurance, as long as they establish state residency and file income taxes (something most immigrants do).
Rep. Gutierrez made his case both on moral grounds and on the grounds of “enlightened self-interest.” He pointed out that immigrants are vital parts of our communities and our families. They have home mortgages, car payments, and contribute to our economy and to the vibrancy of our communities. Over half of the 11 million undocumented immigrants in America have been here a decade, and one-third have been here over 15 years. Gutierrez said we need to turn away from the demagogues who urge us to see immigrants as “them,” and see them for who they really are: part of “us.”
He also also made the case that denying health care to the immigrants among us harms everyone’s health: “they are part of our risk pools, and their health and our health are intertwined.”
Rep. Gutierrez argued that there is “a huge intersection between health care and immigration.” On both issues, we need to come to the moral clarity that “we our all our brothers keeper.” He observed that the “fear and exploitation of my fellow workers impacts my security and ability to support my family.” The same is true when we deny healthcare to our neighbors. Rep. Gutierrez closed with the hope that we would finally get fundamental immigration reform this decade, which will render his health care access bill obsolete.
In addition to getting behind Rep. Gutierrez’s bill, there is also progress that can be made at the state level. In fact, five states have already gone beyond the ACA by using state resources to cover all undocumented immigrant children.
Citizen Action of Wisconsin is starting to work on this issue, lead by our new community organizer Luz Sosa. If you want to get involved, contact Luz at firstname.lastname@example.org