WASHINGTON – President Biden said Thursday that his administration will expand health care coverage for nearly 600,000 immigrants who were brought to the country as children and are protected from deportation.
The plan would allow those covered by the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA, to sign up for health insurance through the Medicaid or Affordable Care Act marketplaces, Mr. Biden said.
“They are American in every way but on paper,” Mr. Biden said video posted on Twitter. “It’s time for Congress to give Dreamers a path to citizenship.” He added that in the meantime, “we must give Dreamers the opportunities and support they deserve.
The change means that immigrants, known as Dreamers, will be able to get Medicaid coverage in most states if they are poor, and that they will be eligible for subsidies to buy private coverage in the state’s marketplaces anywhere if they earn more. The country’s uninsured rate is at a record low, and undocumented immigrants represent a major share of the country’s total population. population that still lacks coverage.
A White House statement said it expected “to be done by the end of the month” — an ambitious timeline given that implementing new regulations, even through executive action, as Mr. Biden is doing, can often take last for months.
But the move comes as the fate of DACA is in legal limbo and the Biden administration is trying to increase pressure on Congress to protect young immigrants. Unless lawmakers act on a legislative remedy, the legality of DACA is almost certain to be decided by the Supreme Court.
“This shows that the Biden administration is not going to let Congress sit by while DACA burns,” said Kevin Appleby, interim director of the Center for Migration Studies in New York. “It’s a winning issue with the American public and it sends a message to Congress to do its job and pass the Dream Act.”
About 80 percent of voters supported legislation that would create a path to citizenship, according to DACA. vote last year by Democratic and Republican research firms.
However, there appears to be no indication that Congress will take action on the matter anytime soon. Many immigration advocates lost hope after a bipartisan proposal led by Sens. Kyrsten Sinema, R-Ariz., and Thom Tillis, R-N.C., failed to make it into the 2023 omnibus budget package. The deal would have provided a path to citizenship for about two million young immigrants , including DACA recipients.
“President Biden’s inflation has already hit working families, and now Democrats want our citizens to pay for new taxpayer-funded benefits for illegal immigrants as well,” Sen. Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky and the minority leader, said in a statement.
The Republican National Committee did not respond to a request for comment on Mr. Biden’s proposal.
Former President Barack Obama created DACA through executive action in 2012 after years of congressional inaction to protect immigrants who were brought to the country undocumented as children. However, these immigrants did not have access to federal health insurance programs.
The Department of Health and Human Services will now propose a rule that would expand the definition of who has a “lawful presence” for Medicaid and Affordable Care Act eligibility purposes.
The total cost of the program is unclear, as it would depend on how many DACA recipients enroll in federal health insurance programs. But based on estimates that about a third of the approximately 580,000 DACA participants are currently uninsured and the approximate federal cost of coverage is about $5,000 per person, the total cost of the program could reach less than $1 billion.
The White House referred a question about the cost of expanding health care coverage to the Department of Health and Human Services, which did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
“The path to a prosperous life begins with access to good health,” said Xavier Becerra, Secretary of Health and Human Services. “And the path to a prosperous country begins with expanding access to health care for every American.”
The Trump administration tried to end DACA, but the Supreme Court ruled against the move in June 2020. However, the court did not rule on whether the program was legally enacted.
A panel of the Federal Court of Appeal ruled that DACA was illegal last year but allowed those already enrolled to restore their status, leaving the status of the program unchanged but the future of its enrollees up in the air.
A Texas judge is now considering a policy proposed by the Biden administration that would preserve protections for hundreds of thousands of young immigrants.
Yuna Oh, a policy associate at America’s Voice, an immigration advocacy group, said the executive action Mr. Biden was taking Thursday would offer at least temporary relief to her family, which includes DACA recipients.
“We will not be afraid to go for a simple medical check-up and let the cost break our savings,” Ms Oh said. “We can plan our future a little more with stability rather than living on the edge.”
Margot Sanger-Katz contributed reporting.