Obamacare Abandons Children of Immigrants With Legal Status

Throughout his term, President Obama has pushed for the passage of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) in order to expand health care access to more Americans. Most recently, Obama announced that young immigrants who are granted temporary legal status will not have access to the health care benefits offered by the new health care laws.

There should not be restrictions on health care reform to immigrants, especially when these families need it the most. In order to ensure that the children of immigrants are able to maintain a healthy lifestyle and receive the health care that they need while living in the United States, the new health care reform laws should be altered to give them more access to health care and health care subsidies.

Presently, government subsidies are not being provided to immigrants, as the provision of subsidies would increase the amount of money that would need to be spent on health care, which stakes money away from other sectors of the economy. In its current state, PPACA fails to recognize the health care needs of the large number of immigrants (both documented and undocumented) in the United States. Under the new health care reform laws, documented immigrants must purchase health insurance, but are eligible for health care subsidies only after they have maintained lawful residence for at least five years. Undocumented workers will be completely barred from purchasing insurance in the state exchanges, let alone from receiving government subsidies.

However, it is currently illegal to deny emergency medical services to any person who may come to the emergency medical centers, even if they do not have insurance. This means that many immigrants often use emergency care as their primary care option. The American College of Emergency Physicians reported that in 2001, emergency physicians lost almost $4.2 billion dollars through adhering to the government mandate requiring them to provide health care in emergency situations. Additionally, they claim that the demand for emergency care is on the rise.

The cost of emergency care is often significantly higher than the cost of preventative care. Preventative care can help to diagnose and reduce the progression of ailments, which could cost more to treat if detected in later stages. Therefore, providing health care subsidies to immigrants would both improve the health care options available to immigrants and be cost-effective for the emergency care centers.

In a recent study, Cornell University Ph. D. student Kathleen Ziol-Guest and Professor Ariel Kalil from the University of Chicago discovered that children from low-income immigrant families are at a higher risk for having poorer health than children from low-income families. This trend has been mainly attributed to the fact that these children and their parents have less access to the health care professionals like doctors and dentists, as well as less ability to pay for health care. Ziol-Guest and Kalil found that despite making up only 13% of the total United States population, children of immigrants account for a much larger percentage of the total population of children in the U.S. and an even larger percentage of all low-income children.

Ziol-Guest and Kalil further concluded immigrants receive subpar care in the United States, which means that immigrant children, if they are receiving medical care at all, are not receiving good medical care — again, putting their health status at risk. These findings not only support the conclusion that the children of immigrants are more likely to have poorer health outcomes than American citizens, but also that the availability of health care to immigrants should be expanded.

Even beyond their short-term wellbeing, the children of immigrants will be greatly impacted by these new reforms. Health care reforms could affect educational outcomes of the children, as currently they may have to miss school for prolonged periods of time due to not receiving proper medical treatment. Researchers from the University of Glasgow studying the effects of absence from school determined that all absences are damaging to academic performance. Academic underachievement often resulted in behavioral issues, as well as hindered socialization skills. 

It becomes clear then, that children of immigrants will often have less access to gaining upper-level educations in the future, as they did not receive the academic support needed to be successful. In turn, their level of education will affect which jobs they are able to obtain, which typically limits the children of immigrants to low-paying jobs. Unfortunately, this process will limit social class mobility for immigrant children as they grow older, and perpetuate the terrible cycle of low socioeconomic standing and the inability of immigrants to afford health care.

If immigrants are granted legal status and are documented, it will be necessary to ensure that they are given government aid so that they can afford health care treatment. Without this aid, the health status of many of the children of immigrants living in America may be placed in jeopardy, with long-term consequences for our society's wellbeing.