Senate Democrats

Setting the Record Straight: The CHIP Reauthorization Act of 2009 is About Insuring America’s Children, Not Undocumented Immigrants

This week, the Senate is expected to consider the Children’s Health Insurance Program Reauthorization Act of 2009 (CHIP Reauthorization Act of 2009) (S.275), which will renew and expand the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) to cover nearly 11 million kids.  CHIP provides health insurance coverage to children in low-income families who do not qualify for Medicaid and would otherwise be uninsured.  The program was created 12 years ago and by every measure is a cost effective and successful way to meet the basic health care needs of our nation’s children. 

Unfortunately, early indicators suggest that instead of focusing on the purpose of the CHIP Reauthorization Act of 2009: to provide better health care coverage for our nation’s children in need, some Senate Republicans are planning to engage in the politics of fear and division by suggesting erroneously that the legislation extends health care coverage to undocumented immigrants and attempting to burden the bill with anti-immigrant amendments.  To those who would stand in the way of providing quality health care for America’s children: Senate Democrats, like-minded Senate Republicans, and the American people say, “enough.” 

Last November, Americans voted for change, a change from the partisan politics of the past to the common purpose of the future.  At a time when our nation’s families are being stretched thin by fewer resources and greater costs, ensuring that kids still have adequate access to quality health care is a goal that all Senators, on both sides of the aisle, should be working towards achieving.

Dispelling Key Myths about the CHIP Reauthorization Act of 2009 and Immigrants

The continued success of the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) is too important to the health our nation’s children to let stand myths and half-truths about who is, and is not, covered.  Senate Democrats are committed to setting the record straight.

MYTH: S.275, the CHIP Reauthorization Act of 2009, contains a provision that would allow undocumented immigrants to access CHIP benefits.

FACT:S.275, the CHIP Reauthorization Act of 2009, contains the Legal Immigrant Children’s Health Improvement Act (ICHIA), which would end the mandatory five-year waiting period for legal immigrant children and pregnant women to participate in CHIP.  ICHIA would give states the option to enroll legal immigrants without the waiting period. 

S.275 would not, however, extend health care coverage to undocumented immigrant children or pregnant women.  Indeed, the legislation would continue to prohibit states from enrolling undocumented immigrants in federally-funded CHIP.  Moreover, the bill would newly require all children and pregnant women participating in CHIP to document their immigration status.

MYTH:Allowing states to waive the five-year waiting period for lawfully residing immigrants will harm citizen children.

FACT: Allowing states to waive the five-year waiting period for legal immigrants is vitally important to the health of all children andis critical tothe continued success of our nation.

·         Early access to sick care, preventative care, and immunizations reduces the spread of disease and the onset of long-term, more-costly health problems. Healthy children perform better in school.

·         Studies have found an association between enrollment in CHIP and improved school performance, including increased attendance and ability to focus.  Given that, statistically, nearly every legal immigrant child will one day become a United States citizen, the physical health and educational success of immigrant children should be important to all Americans. 

MYTH:Lifting the five-year waiting period for legal immigrants will make these immigrants a “public charge,” in violation of their sponsors’ promise to keep them off the public charge. 

FACT: This is simply not true.  According to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (CIS), lawful permanent residents are not considered a public charge for participating in health care programs (like CHIP), food programs, or other non-cash programs.[1]  Thus, the “affidavit of support” signed by sponsors promising to provide financial support to the immigrant so that he or she is not likely to rely on cash welfare once in country, i.e. become a “public charge,” is not violated.  Exempting non-cash programs from the definition of “public charge” reflects the reality that sponsors cannot cover all the needs of the immigrants they sponsor.  This is especially true in the case of health care because unless a spouse or child, the immigrant cannot be added to the sponsor’s employer-sponsored health insurance. 

MYTH:Americans are opposed to providing health care coverage for legal immigrant children and pregnant women without a five-year waiting period.

FACT: The American people have shown overwhelming support for extending CHIP coverage to legal immigrant children without a five-year waiting period.  A November 2008 poll commission by First Focus, a bipartisan children’s advocacy organization, found that 82 percent of Americans supported renewing and expanding CHIP and 79 percent supported expanding coverage to legal immigrant children currently barred by the five-year waiting period.[2] 

Senate Democrats, like the American people, believe that no child, legally present in this country, should have to wait five years to receive health care.  To do so would not only be against our collective interest in a healthy and productive society, it would be arbitrary and cruel and against our collective morality. 

Endnotes



[1] U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, Fact Sheet on “Public Charge” (May 25, 1999), available at link.  

[2] First Focus, “New Poll Shows Widespread Support for Healthcare for Every Child,” Poll Conducted on November 3, 2008 by Lake Research Partners (November 18, 2008), available at link.

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