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It's Health Care, Not Immigration

La Opinin, Editorial, Staff Posted: Sep 13, 2009

The inappropriate outburst by Representative Joe Wilson, R-S.C., during President Obamas address to Congress reflects the level of incivility surrounding the national health care debate. It is also an indication of the passion sparked by the mere mention of the undocumented inside the legislative halls.

Obamas message had a determined tone and he presented various aspects of his policy, but his statement that the undocumented would not be covered was met with a ripple of laughter on the Republican side and the infamous shout, "You lie," by the Republican from South Carolina. The president was telling the truth: his health care reform does not authorize benefits of any type for the undocumented and it continues with an unfair policy of restricting benefits to those legal residents who have been in the country for less than five years.

Excluding these residents from health care reform is a very bad public policy no matter how you look at it. In principle, we believe that access to medical attention is a basic human right. But beyond the issue of fundamental human compassion, health coverage for all those who reside in this country is an issue of health and the economy.

First, there is the obvious danger of the transmission of diseases, not because they are being brought from other countries but because of the lack of medical attention in the face of the local spread of the illness. Next, there is the issue of dollars. Preventive care is the most effective way to control costs. An early visit to the doctor is much cheaper than the emergency room visit by a seriously ill patient.

It is unrealistic to think that the undocumented will vanish in an instant; millions have established lives, households and jobs here; they own homes and businesses. The stereotype of the recently arrived immigrant without papers and rootless in this land is simply incorrect. A health policy that doesnt cover illegal immigrants with the hope that they will simply disappear like magic is inadequate.

The wise and sound approach would be to offer coverage to the undocumented. Period. But the political climate in Congress is such that not even the injustice against legal residents will be redressed. We are worried that the Democrats, far from gaining momentum given the publics reaction to Wilsons outburst, will again hesitate and cave in to anti-immigrant pressure. The reports are disturbing that the Senate is now looking at whether healthcare reform should benefit only citizens and the proposal in the House is to block the undocumented from being able to purchase coverage in the Health Exchange, which will be set up so that private insurance companies compete.

It is unacceptable that health care reform is being used to make immigration policy. It is outrageous that an insulting outburst receives public condemnation but is a hidden victory that wrongs immigrants by taking away the little that they already have.

The Democratic leadership should separate immigration policy from the health care debate. The Republicans should not be able to turn every new law into another restriction against immigrants and the undocumented.

Health care reform is too important for all Americans to be allowed to fall into this trap.

Related Articles:

Ethnic Leaders Find Hope in Health Care Plan

What Health Care Reform Means for Latinos

Health Care for All? It Depends on Your Visa

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