Some immigrants in the U.S. illegally would be excluded from health care overhaul
The politics behind the bill offer little solace to immigrant families struggling with growing medical bills.
Isabel Castillo came to the U.S. illegally with her parents when she was a child. She's now 28 and has not gone for an annual physical exam since 2007. Every pain triggers debate over whether it's worth a medical visit or not.
"You are like, 'God, should I go, should I wait? The bill is going to be so high,'" Castillo said. "You just wait until you can't tolerate the pain anymore and then you go to the emergency room."
Immigrants who are U.S. citizens are also affected by the limits on health care access if they provide for family members here illegally.
High school student Jacqueline Garcia of Phoenix works two jobs to support her 13-year-old brother and 52-year-old grandmother, who has severe diabetes. The woman's mobility is limited, her vision and memory are fading and she sometimes suffers from seizures. The children were born in the United States and are being raised by the grandmother, who does not have lawful status and as a result does not qualify for Medicaid.
"Every time she gets sick, I have to take her to the doctor. It's really expensive," Garcia said. "What if my grandmother doesn't make it for the 10 years? I mean, I am always going to be struggling. That's too long."
Opponents said they understand the concerns of immigrants not getting health care, but it becomes an issue of the added expense.
"We aren't saying people shouldn't get health care. The question is who is going to pay for it?" said Ira Mehlman, spokesman for the Federation for American Immigration Reform, a national group that opposes the immigration overhaul. "They would all be on Medicaid or heavily subsidized in some other way."
Critics of the decision said immigrants are eager to pay for affordable health care insurance and already support federal benefits by paying sales and income taxes. They note that adults unable to overcome health emergencies are less likely to contribute to the workforce and society.
"The risk of them being uninsured if they are in the country illegally is the same risk of anyone else in the country not being insured," said Stephen Zuckerman, a health economist for the Urban Institute. "It's always more expensive to treat people at a more advanced stage of disease."
In North Carolina, Jessica Sanchez-Rodriguez said she has undergone a series of surgeries and medicines to treat her spina bifida, a developmental congenital disorder, and an ailment that leads to brain swelling. Her parents brought her illegally from Mexico when she was 11 months old. As a minor, she received subsidized medical care, but she was cut off when she turned 18 in February.
Her family is trying to raise money for a $55,000 surgery to connect a catheter to her bladder.
"It's terrible," Sanchez-Rodriguez said. "I have to go to school with these pains."
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