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While Most Americans Will Benefit From Historic Health Reforms, Fixes Needed on Discriminatory Policies Toward Immigrants

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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Press Contact: Jenny Rejeske,  Main Phone: 212-627-2227 x223, 
New York City  (Thursday, March 25, 2010)

While Most Americans Will Benefit From Historic Health Reforms, Fixes Needed on Discriminatory Policies Toward Immigrants

Following is a statement by Ms. Chung-Wha Hong, executive director of the New York Immigration Coalition, concerning enactment of historic health reform legislation:

The President signed an historic health reform package this week, revamping the health care system in significant ways to make quality health insurance affordable for millions of people who currently lack coverage, restricting insurance companies’ most egregious practices, improving health outcomes, and containing costs. We applaud these reforms. However, we are disappointed and saddened that the package includes counterproductive policies that will not only keep undocumented immigrant workers and their families from getting the health care they need, but will also make it harder for eligible citizens and legal immigrants to access insurance through the new exchange marketplace because of the status verification requirements.

Congress crafted a health reform package that unfortunately perpetuates discriminatory treatment of immigrants. The package fails to remove the five-year waiting period in Medicaid for legal immigrants—whose very taxes subsidize the program—and prohibits undocumented immigrants from buying private insurance with their own money at full price in the new insurance exchange. We are deeply disappointed that Congress has once again missed the opportunity to craft a package that includes sound policies that would lower health care costs even further, provide affordable health insurance to the most vulnerable legal immigrants, and make it easier for all of us to access health insurance in the new exchange marketplace. It is ironic that a health reform bill would include provisions that actually undermine the goals of health reform.

Like all Americans, immigrant communities in New York have a lot at stake in the health care bill—immigrants struggle with high medical bills just like everyone else and are actually three times more likely to lack health insurance than native citizens. We know that without health insurance, many immigrants simply do not go to the doctor, even when they need to, until their condition becomes gravely worse; we know that many resort to seeking medical advice from health professionals from their home country via phone rather than risk expensive bills from the local hospital; that many take a fraction of the medication that is needed in order to save money and seek countless other creative alternatives for health care. We also know immigrant New Yorkers want high quality health insurance for themselves and their family members and are willing to pay their fair share for health insurance. That is why immigrant communities have been actively engaged in the fight for true health reform that will make it possible for all of us to receive quality, affordable health care.

When we talk with immigrant constituents about the health reform bill, many express excitement about the reforms that will benefit so many people. And yet there remains a deep sense of unfairness and disappointment when trying to understand why the most vulnerable legal immigrants, who have played by the rules and pay the same taxes as citizens, do not have access to the most affordable insurance available: Medicaid. Or why undocumented workers are not allowed to buy a private good with their own money that would keep them and their families healthy. Many are ashamed that the great country of the United States could not do better.

The Senate is voting today on a package of additional fixes to the bill the President signed. Minor provisions related to Pell grants in the education section of the bill were removed, necessitating another vote in the House before going to the President’s desk to be signed. These fixes will improve the overall health reform package, but do not address the treatment of immigrants. Thus, we will continue to work for the necessary fixes with the hope that the politics of reform and inclusion wins out, in the end, over the cynical wedge politics of exclusion. Our work continues!

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