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Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Noncitizen Eligibility and Verification Issues in the Health Care Reform Legislation

Ruth Ellen Wasem
Specialist in Immigration Policy


Health care reform legislation raises a significant set of complex issues, and among the thornier for policy makers are the noncitizen eligibility and verification issues. That the treatment of foreign nationals complicates health care reform legislation is not surprising given that reform of immigration policy poses its own constellation of controversial policy options. This report focuses on this nexus of immigration law and health care reform in the major health care reform bills that are receiving action. These are the America's Affordable Health Choices Act of 2009 (H.R. 3200), as reported by the House Committees on Energy and Commerce, Ways and Means, and Education and Labor on October 14, 2009, and folded into the Affordable Health Care for America Act (H.R. 3962), which passed on November 7, 2009; the Affordable Health Choices Act (S. 1679), as reported by the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) on September 17, 2009; the America's Healthy Future Act (S. 1796), as ordered reported by the Senate Committee on Finance on October 13, 2009; and the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (H.R. 3590 as amended), which passed the Senate on December 24, 2009. 

Legal permanent residents (LPRs) are treated similarly to U.S. citizens under all the major health care reform bills. They are mandated to obtain health insurance, are eligible to purchase insurance through the exchange, and are eligible for the premium and cost-sharing subsidies if they meet the other eligibility requirements. This consistency of treatment holds regardless of when they entered the United States or whether they came initially as refugees or asylees. 

The proposed policies toward nonimmigrants (i.e., those in the United States temporarily, such as students and temporary workers) are more nuanced in large part because some classes of nonimmigrants reside legally in the United States for extended periods of time, some are employed and taxed as a result of those earnings, and some are on a track to become LPRs. 

The treatment of unauthorized aliens varies across bills and across the three elements (the individual mandate, eligibility for the exchange, and eligibility for subsidies). Unauthorized aliens would not be eligible for the premium and cost-sharing credits in any of the bills. The Senatepassed H.R. 3590 and the Senate Finance bill expressly exempt them from the mandate to have health coverage and bars them from the health insurance exchange. Another aspect of the legislation germane to the issue of noncitizens is the immigration and citizenship verification provisions of the bills. Under Senate-passed, three pieces of personal data would be used to verify citizenship and immigration status. The Social Security Administration would verify the name, social security number, and date of birth of the individual, and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) would verify an individual's immigration status. While the Senate-passed H.R. 3590 has requirements similar to and compatible with the DHS Systematic Alien Verification for Entitlements (SAVE) system established by §1137(d) of the Social Security Act (SSA), H.R. 3962 would expressly build on the statutory authority of the SAVE system to verify citizenship and immigration status. 

None of the major health care reform bills would alter the noncitizen eligibility laws pertaining to Medicaid or CHIP. Moreover, none of the major health care reform bills would alter the Internal Revenue Code on the definitions of resident or nonresident aliens.

Date of Report: January, 08 2010
Number of Pages: 31
Order Number: R40889
Price: $29.95

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