Mar. 9, 2007 – Immigrant-rights groups are backing a bill introduced this week that could extend health coverage through already-underfunded programs to non-citizens who are under 21 or pregnant and are in the country legally.
Currently, most authorized immigrants are barred from receiving healthcare benefits under Medicaid and the State Childrenâ€™s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP)for five years upon entering the United States. Critics of the ban say it has "increased racial and ethnic health disparities among children in the US."
The Immigrant Childrenâ€™s Health Improvement Act (ICHIA), reintroduced by Representative Lincoln Diaz-Balart (Râ€“Florida), would give states the authority to provide health coverage to immigrant children and pregnant women using federal healthcare programs. Some states already use their own funds to help provide health care for authorized immigrants.
Proponents of the legislation, which include the National Council of La Raza and National Immigration Law Center, are urging Congress to include the Act in this yearâ€™s reauthorization of SCHIP. SCHIP provides health insurance for children whose families cannot afford private coverage but earn too much to qualify for Medicaid.
SCHIP, however, is facing its own pitfalls, making inclusion of ICHIA tenuous. According to the progressive think tank Center for Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP), SCHIP funding has not kept pace with the increasing number of children eligible for the program, or the rising cost of health care.
CBPP warns that if funding for 2007 remains stagnant, it will be inadequate to cover the children who received benefits last year, let alone expand.
In February, 60 advocacy organizations signed a letter urging Congress to increase funding for SCHIP and to provide SCHIP and Medicaid coverage to documented immigrant children and pregnant women.