The Corner

California Petitions to Give Illegal Immigrants Access to Obamacare

In 2009, South Carolina representative Joe Wilson shouted “You lie!” as Obama addressed Congress’s concerns that health-care reforms would mean providing coverage to illegal immigrants. The congressional chamber booed Wilson, and Obama quickly responded, “That’s not true.” Fast forward to September 30, when California explicitly petitioned the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to grant illegal immigrants access to Obamacare. If approved, it will become the first state to offer such a program.

California’s intent to grant illegal immigrants access to the Obamacare marketplace, also known as the Exchange, became undeniable in June when Governor Jerry Brown signed into law Senate Bill 10. The new law gave Covered California, the state’s health insurance exchange, permission to request that the federal government waive restrictions on illegal immigrants from purchasing insurance. If the Obama administration accepts California’s request, Obamacare will be accessible to any illegal immigrant willing to pay the heavy price — they will not be “eligible to receive federal advanced premium tax credit, federal cost-sharing reduction, or any other federal assistance for the payment of premiums or cost sharing for a California qualified health plan.”

The waiver would give 390,000 illegal immigrants an opportunity to purchase health insurance; meanwhile, Covered California made the predictable defense for its irrational petition: The Obamacare restriction is “a barrier for these residents who make a significant contribution to the economy, paying more than $3 billion a year in state and local taxes.” They also argued that nearly 50 percent of these illegal immigrants are home-owners and have resided in the U.S. for over a decade, so they should have access to purchasing health insurance.

But what Governor Brown and California’s majority-Democratic legislature refuse to admit is that by opening the Exchange up to those who break U.S. immigration law, they are legitimizing and in effect encouraging further illegal immigration. In the petition, Covered California argued similar points made by Democratic state senator Ricardo Lara, who authored Senate Bill 10. Both Lara and Covered California cite statistics that illustrate illegal immigrants’ paying their fair share as a reason to alter the Obamacare eligibility requirement. For example, Lara said that the waiver would “acknowledge the hard work and sacrifice of a community that contributes billions of dollars to our GDP.” But if the petition is accepted, then what? Would California really be willing to deny these same illegal immigrants — who are paying into the system — all federal subsidies strictly because of their immigration status? It’s doubtful.

If the Obama administration accepts California’s petition, Wilson will be vindicated for his rebuke to the president. Once again, Obama will have lied to the American people.

Austin Yack — Austin Yack is a William F. Buckley Fellow in Political Journalism at the National Review Institute and a University of California, Santa Barbara alumnus.

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