John Aravosis uncovers an amazing nugget in TIME Magazine. Apparently, there are Democrats who saw Rep. Joe Wilson yell "You Lie!" at the President of the United States and thought, "that guy has a point." And they happen to be the ones writing the health care bill in the Senate Finance Committee.
The controversy over Republican Rep. Joe Wilson's shouting out "You Lie!" at the President over his claim that illegal immigrants wouldn't benefit from health-care reform apparently sparked some reconsideration of the relevant language. "We really thought we'd resolved this question of people who are here illegally, but as we reflected on the President's speech last night we wanted to go back and drill down again," said Senator Kent Conrad, one of the Democrats in the talks after a meeting Thursday morning. Baucus later that afternoon said the group would put in a proof of citizenship requirement to participate in the new health exchange — a move likely to inflame the left.
So many things wrong with this, starting with caving to an extremist. But it's worse than that on the policy end. The exchanges are just health insurance purchasing centers, like a Wal-Mart for insurance. You don't have to receive a subsidy to buy insurance on the exchanges; in fact, if your family makes over $88,000 a year, you can't be eligible for a subsidy, though you can still purchase there. What Conrad is saying is that he would make it illegal for a non-citizen to BUY something.
Not only that, but proof of citizenship laws, which we don't have in most states for voting, are onerous and disproportionately tilted away from the poor and the elderly, as well as potentially restrictive to legal immigrants with green cards, in this case. As the New York Times says today:
Should we take a harder line? Force people to prove citizenship in emergency rooms? That’s illegal, for good reason. Make verification requirements so onerous that not a single illegal immigrant slips through? Very expensive, and not smart. It would be highly likely to snag deserving citizens — like old people who don’t have their original birth certificates. And besides, we’ve tried that: A House oversight committee reviewed six state Medicaid programs in 2007 and found that verification rules had cost the federal government an additional $8.3 million. They caught exactly eight illegal immigrants.
In the case of an epidemic, like swine flu, should illegal immigrants go untreated so they can infect legal residents and American citizens?
Hard-line Republicans insist that they will fight for citizenship verification. They could, in theory, get the country to spend whatever it takes to do that and proudly report back to their voters. But there is a line beyond which antipathy to the undocumented can be damaging to those voters’ health, not to mention the federal budget. Mr. Wilson and his admirers seem to have crossed it.
Not to mention the fact that buckling to these demands will not get one Republican vote on any health care bill.
This is the Senate Finance bill, not the overall bill. But Democrats are so wishy-washy when it comes to, well, anything, that we actually could see this rotten, xenophobic, piss-poor policy in a bill supposedly designed to expand access to health care.
I know a lot of money has been flowing to Joe Wilson's opponent in 2010, but a far better use of those dollars would be to funnel them toward primary opponents for Kent Conrad and Max Baucus.
UPDATE: Conrad is now clarifying that there would be no federal subsidies, and requiring proof of citizenship would just be used to determine qualification for government assistance. Of course, you end up with the same problem, then; those without proper proof of ID would have trouble getting subsidies that could be available to them. The larger point is that there was no need to react to a teabagger yelling and screaming. This was already implicit in the bill, and allowed for the HHS Secretary to determine a best practice. This blunt instrument is not the way to do it, and makes Democrats look weak (but that's redundant).
UPDATE II: As this GAO report notes, checkpoint systems like Baucus and Conrad want were implemented under the Bush Administration to ensure undocumenteds didn't get on Medicaid, and for every $100 they spent, 14 CENTS in Medicaid savings were achieved. It's wasteful and spiteful!