Still, members of Congress and policy experts suggested healthcare coverage provisions for this population will surface in the immigration reform debate.
The president's four-part plan creates a “provisional legal status” where undocumented immigrants must register, submit biometric data, pass criminal background and national security checks, and pay fees and penalties before they're eligible. The proposal also says undocumented immigrants must pay taxes, and clearly indicates that those under the provisional legal status are not eligible for welfare or other federal benefits, including subsidies or tax credits under the Affordable Care Act.
Under the 2010 law, tax credits are available to those citizens and legal immigrants with incomes between 100% and 400% of the federal poverty level to help buy coverage through the state insurance exchanges, or “marketplaces,” as HHS now refers to them.
“Certainly no one is going to come out on record until the whole budget and sequestration thing plays out,” said Matthew Buettgens, a senior research analyst at the Urban Institute, a liberal Washington think tank. Buettgens also said he doesn't think it's likely there will be attempts to extend benefits through Medicaid, given that would add to both state and federal budgets at a time when states are still deciding whether they will expand their programs. And, even then, the 1996 welfare-reform law imposes a five-year waiting period for immigrants to be eligible for Medicaid. “Extending subsidy eligibility would be more likely something to be proposed,” Buettgens continued. “But that would raise federal spending.”
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), who unveiled the Senate proposal with seven of his colleagues, underscored that message when he commented on the president's plan last week.
“I was encouraged by the president's explicit statement that people with temporary legal status won't be eligible for Obamacare,” Rubio, the son of Cuban immigrants, said in a statement. “If in fact they were, the potential cost of reform would blow open another big, gaping hole in our federal budget and make the bill untenable.”