The sweeping immigration reform bill the Senate passed in June would offer people living here illegally a pathway to citizenship, but the provisional immigrants would still have "great difficulty" gaining access to healthcare during the five years it would take to obtain a Green Card, a public health expert told Al Jazeera Thursday.
Under the immigration legislation, those living here without legal permission -- an estimated 11 million -- would not be eligible for any of the reforms ushered in by President Barack Obama's Affordable Care Act, including premium assistance, tax deductions that reduce health insurance premiums for the poor.
"Even if they have legal status, they won't be able to easily get health insurance with the public system," said Leighton Ku, director of the Center for Health Policy Research at George Washington University, and the author of the report, which was partially paid for bh the Commonwealth Fund.
At the same time, unauthorized immigrants would not face the same tax penalties as their counterparts with legal status if they do not have insurance come October, when the Affordable Care Act's individual mandate comes into effect. New immigrants applying for citizenship through legal channels are still eligible for premium assistance and beholden to the mandate.
Those living in the country without legal permission are ineligible for Medicare or Medicaid, except in select emergency circumstances, which would not change with the new immigration legislation.
"There would really be no expansion of health benefits," said Stephen Zuckerman, a health economist at the Urban Institute, a center-left think tank.
The exclusion of unauthorized immigrants from the provisions of the Affordable Care Act "kicks the cost of immigration reform down tremendously," Zuckerman said.
Ku explained that there was bipartisan support among lawmakers to "not let provisional immigrants get Affordable Care Act tax benefits."
Still, Zuckerman noted that the immigration bill, championed by the Obama administration and its Democratic allies in Congress, is unlikely to pass the Republican-controlled House of Representatives.