U.S. Rep. Luis Gutiérrez threw a “Hail Mary pass” in Congress this week with his introduction of legislation to extend the Affordable Care Act to undocumented immigrants living in the U.S. illegally. While acknowledging the measure has slim chances in the Republican-controlled Congress, Gutiérrez, a Democrat from Illinois, said providing free and low-cost healthcare to noncitizens serves moral and economic purposes.
“Doing unto others as you would have them do unto you means moving forward with no restrictions on which brother and sister and neighbor we think of as ‘eligible’ or ‘deserving,’” Gutiérrez said Wednesday on the floor of the House of Representatives, according to a report by The Hill newspaper. A broad coverage expansion would create younger, healthier patient pools, while lowering the cost of insurance for citizens who are already enrolled, he argued.
“As a nation, we all benefit when we spread the risk, require younger, healthier workers to join our exchanges with the rest of us, reduce the costs of compensating hospitals for caring for the uninsured, and decrease the number of uninsured who live and work here,” Gutiérrez said. The congressman, who is of Puerto Rican descent, has been considered one of Capitol Hill’s staunchest supporters of immigration reform, which has stalled over partisan disagreements about whether to give amnesty or deport the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the U.S.
“Obamacare,” as it’s colloquially called among opponents of the 2010 law, explicitly bans undocumented immigrants from enrolling in federal health insurance exchanges. Gutiérrez's legislation would repeal that provision, requiring undocumented workers to pay for insurance like legal citizens.
"It gives them access to the healthcare exchanges in Obamacare under the ordinary rules of residency in the states in which they live and makes them eligible for subsidies if and when they file taxes — just like the rest of us," Gutiérrez said Wednesday. "The goal is to make integration and inclusion real for millions of families that are locked out under current law."
The legislation has no chance in a Congress controlled by Republicans, who fought to repeal the health care law and refused to take up immigration reform bills. "The current hysteria on the campaign trail makes action by these Republicans or any Republicans unlikely," the Illinois congressman said. "Even though I still believe we have the votes — like we did for the last several years — to pass immigration reform in the House I don’t think the Speaker, even as a lame duck, will allow a vote."