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Healthcare issues within new immigration bill

Today the U.S. Senate officially opened debate on the long-anticipated immigration reform bill. According to an ABC News.com report, lawmakers are set to debate the bill for a number of weeks before putting it to a vote. In our previous posts we have highlighted a number of issues likely to be debated, including the number of visas available for high tech professionals compared to migrant workers, and whether the new law would recognize same sex couples.

The question of how (or whether) new immigrants will have access to federal healthcare programs such as Medicaid is likely to garner fierce debate.

The specter of disagreement can already be felt, as one of the "Gang of Eight" has already withdrawn support over the (undefined) healthcare provisions. ABC News reports that he left because he didn't want undocumented immigrants having access to federal healthcare benefits.

Currently, only certain legal immigrants can get federal health benefits (e.g. legal permanent residents, asylees and refugees), but it does not appear that the new immigration bill would change that. Moreover, it appears that only legal permanent residents would be eligible for such benefits after they have been in the country for a certain amount of time (at least five years).

However, states could have the option of providing benefits (e.g. to pregnant women and their children).

The question of whether new immigrants would be required to purchase medical insurance (pursuant to the Affordable Care Act) will also be discussed. It is expected that lawmakers will debate the length of time immgrants would have to wait before they would be obligated to have insurance.

We will continue to monitor the debate and provide timely updates.

Source: ABC News.com, 5 Answers to questions about immigration and healthcare, June 6, 2013

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