Senate Amendments Seek to Plug Immigration Loopholes

By James R. Edwards, Jr. on December 18, 2009

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid continues to try to force a Senate vote to pass health reform before Christmas. Not even a pep talk/arm twisting, when all Democratic senators met with President Obama at the White House Tuesday, could secure the votes needed to end a filibuster.

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While his arbitrary deadline looms and the timing to break off debate dwindles, Reid's bill that he's revising behind closed doors seems to keep his immigration loopholes intact. That is, there's no indication Reid has fixed any of the several serious flaws in H.R. 3590 through which illegal aliens would get taxpayer-funded health care.

But key amendments have been filed that draw attention to the loopholes. The filing of these amendments substantiates the fact that the Reid bill contains rewards for illegal aliens, as well as many lower-income legal immigrants. The amendments' sponsors have championed sound immigration policy before: Sen. Jeff Sessions, Sen. Charles Grassley, and Sen. John Ensign.

The Sessions amendment would strengthen eligibility verification requirements. It would specify that the immigration status of people trying to enroll in the health insurance "exchange" or for taxpayer subsidy of their premium payments be screened through the SAVE system. This common-sense change employs the existing Systematic Alien Verification for Entitlements system already used in more than 70 means-tested programs. The amendment would more robustly protect American taxpayers, replacing the fraud-prone verification process currently in the legislation. The Sessions amendment is similar to the Heller amendment that was killed in the House Ways and Means Committee.

The Grassley amendment focuses on aliens applying for Medicaid or the CHIP program. These applicants must demonstrate "satisfactory immigrant status" by showing a designated ID document. U.S. nationals must show a U.S. passport or secure, state-issued driver's license containing photo. LPRs must show a green card. Work-authorized aliens must produce a Homeland Security-issued employment authorization card. The Grassley amendment solves the bill's problem of enabling massive fraud and abuse in these welfare programs. This is much like the Deal amendment blocked in the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

The Ensign amendment addresses an inequity where H.R. 3590 treats immigrants better than it does American citizens. The legislation forces Americans with income below 133 percent of the federal poverty level into Medicaid. Yet, non-citizens at the same income level get a choice between Medicaid and other health insurance options in the "exchange" because these aliens may benefit from the refundable tax credit premium subsidy. Sen. Ensign allows Americans the same choice as immigrants would have.

The stakes of this taxpayer liability exposure, reward for illegal immigration, and incentive for fraud and abuse remain quite high. For instance, Medicaid expansion to everyone with income one-third above the official poverty level will cause state governments grave choices to meet the new costs — costs all the higher due to the absence of effective eligibility verification and anti-fraud measures to ensure illegal aliens aren't rewarded with taxpayer-funded health care. Unfortunately, Sen. Reid plans to shut off all debate as soon as he gets his 60th vote. That means the Senate won't even have the opportunity to consider these important immigration-related amendments.

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Topics: Health Care